Stars face big test in Blackhawks

The Dallas Stars have defeated some good teams during their current five-game winning streak. To push it to six games they’ll have to beat the best. The Stars take on the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night at United Center, and the last time the two teams met it didn’t go well for the Stars.

That was March 16 at American Airlines Center and the Blackhawks demolished the Stars 8-1.

“I think that we’re going to talk a little bit in our room about the last time we played them,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “It’s going to be there and we have to come out with a gutsy effort.  We’ve got to continue to focus on our game.”

The Stars look a lot different than they did a month ago. Gone are players like Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow, all dealt away prior to the NHL trade deadline. Into the mix are young players like Alex Chiasson, who has scored six goals in his first NHL games.

The Stars’ game looks different as well. It’s a more direct game – a north-south style – and it’s paid dividends for the Stars.

“We’re obviously a much different team now. We were playing a little more risky game back then, and I think we’ve really tightened that up. We’re playing more direct and harder defensively,” said Stars forward Eric Nystrom. “We made some moves and brought in some youth and a little bit of energy. I think our game is much more consistent now. These guys are really buying into the system. They are not as high risk, they are just driving the net and playing simple. The older guys we have here have been preaching that the whole year and we haven’t been able to put it together. Right now, we are finding a way and it feels great.”

That’s helped fuel the Stars’ recent run and pushed them up the Western Conference standings. The Stars’ moved into the eighth and final playoff spot with their 2-1 win over San Jose on Saturday, but they dropped to ninth and two points out of eighth after Detroit won in Nashville Sunday evening. The Stars can climb back into the top eight with a win Monday.

Nothing much has changed for Chicago, which owns the best record in the NHL. They were fairly quiet at the deadline, picking veteran center Michal Handzus from San Jose in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick.

The Blackhawks are on a roll again, winning their last five in a row. After starting the season 21-0-3, they went through a 4-5-0 stretch, but are currently on a 7-0-1 run. It all adds up to an impressive 32-5-4 mark on the season.

“They are an awesome team, clearly,” said Nystrom. “If we want to be a playoff team we’ve got to be able to compete with them. It will be a great test.”

Streaking Stars and Blackhawks

The Stars and Blackhawks are the two hottest teams in the Western Conference, both with five-game winning streaks. Only Washington in the East is hotter. The Capitals have won seven straight.

Here’s a look at how the Stars and Blackhawks compare statistically during their current five-game winning streaks.

Category Stars Blackhawks
Record 5-0-0 5-0-0
Goals/game* 3.8 2.2
Goals against/game 1.8 1.0
5-on-5 GF/GA 16-6 10-4
Power play 9.5% (2-21) 0.0% (0-10)
Penalty kill 82.4% (14-17) 92.3% (12-13)
Shots/game 25.4 31.0
Shots against/game 30.8 24.2
Team shooting percentage 15.0% 7.1%
Team save percentage .942 .959
*Excluding goals awarded for shootout wins

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