STARS (30-26-4) at BLACKHAWKS (33-21-7)
TV: FS-SW, CSN-CH
Last 10: Dallas 4-4-2; Chicago 4-6-0
Season Series: So far the Stars and Blackhawks have split two meetings, which came in a season-opening home-and-home. Chicago took the second game, 5-2, on Oct. 8 at the United Center.
Big Story: After one of the longest losing streaks in recent memory, the Blackhawks appear to be back to normal, but they'll be facing their first desperate opponent since snapping the skid when they play Dallas, a team that is currently locked in a tight battle for the West's final playoff spot.
Stars: For the second straight season Dallas is in a fight for the final postseason berth. That chase didn't turn out so well for the Stars a year ago, as they missed out on the eighth seed to Chicago with a loss in the final game on the NHL regular season calendar. This time around, Dallas has a few chits in its favor against the competition. The Stars are scrapping against Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary, Los Angeles and Anaheim for the last spot with 22 games left to be played, but the Stars will have a game in hand on L.A. and Colorado by the time they take the ice Thursday, and there is also the considerable edge of having more regulation and overtime wins than anyone else in the hunt.
In addition, Dallas may have turned a corner Tuesday night in Montreal when it blanked the Canadiens 3-0, courtesy of a game-winner by Ryan Garbutt, who was playing in just his third NHL game. The victory was the Stars' first in regulation in their last seven games, but if they can manage a win in Chicago Thursday the opportunity to build momentum is there. Dallas will open a three-game homestand Friday night.
Blackhawks: It's remarkable what kind of difference a week makes. Last Thursday the Blackhawks were stuck in a torturous nine-game losing streak that likely cost them any shot at the Central Division title. Chicago still trails behind Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville and 11 points separate them from the first-place Red Wings. But even if a division title looks unlikely, the Hawks seem to have snapped out of their funk. After scoring four goals in the first 10 minutes against the Rangers on Feb. 16, Chicago trounced Columbus before pulling out two gutsy wins against the Blues and Wings.
Suddenly, the Hawks are off and running with four straight wins, the longest current streak in the West, and they seem to have calmed any concerns that the team might drop out of the top eight or cost coach Joel Quenneville his job. Chicago still sits at sixth place in the Western Conference standings, but with a comfortable cushion between them and the ninth spot, the Hawks seem to be back to normal.
Who's Hot: Mike Ribeiro has 2 goals and 3 assists in his last four games for the Stars. … Duncan Keith has 4 points in his last three games for Chicago.
Injury Report: Quenneville said Wednesday that captain Jonathan Toews will miss Thursday's game with an upper-body injury that has him day-to-day. Chicago will also be without Steve Montador (upper body) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (concussion-like symptoms). … The Stars are expected to get defenseman Sheldon Souray (bruised foot) back, while Jamie Benn is considered doubtful with a laceration on his left leg. Ex-Blackhawk Adam Burish is questionable with an illness.
Stat Pack: One thing the Blackhawks' massive losing streak didn't damage was Chicago's reputation of dominating at home. Eight of the nine games in that skid came on the road, which means the Hawks' 21-6-4 mark at the United Center is still among the tops in the League.
Puck Drop: Thursday's game wraps up a three-game homestand for Chicago, and while the Hawks appear to be playing their typical brand of winning hockey again, Dallas and the following two games provide no cakewalk. The Blackhawks head to southern California this weekend to face the Kings and Ducks, who will be equally as desperate -- and dangerous -- as the Stars will be Thursday night.