Tuesday marks the fifth and final meeting between the Blackhawks and Dallas Stars; Chicago has won three of the first four games, most recently taking a 6-2 road victory at American Airlines Center on Dec. 10. Patrick Sharp paces the team with eight points (4G, 4A) in four matchups with Dallas this season, including a two-goal game on Dec. 10 and a season-high four assists on Nov. 5. Dallas has recently dropped out of the West’s playoff picture, sitting at ninth in the conference after going 2-3-1 in their last six games; they will likely have to battle Phoenix and Vancouver for the second wild card spot, as all three teams are within four points of one another.
According to Head Coach Joel Quenneville, it’s likely that Tuesday’s game will mark the North American debut of top prospect Teuvo Teravainen, who joined the Blackhawks following the end of his season with Jokerit in the Finnish league. The 19-year-old led Jokerit with 44 points (9G, 35A) in 49 games this season, while ranking seventh in the league in points. Though he has a high ceiling, VP/GM Stan Bowman and Quenneville have reiterated that the team will bring their 2012 first-round draft pick along slowly and let him take his time to get acclimated. Don’t expect him to see top-line minutes right off the bat; the Helsinki native will need to gain experience skating on the smaller North American rink and adjust to the much faster NHL game.
Leading Dallas in the playoff hunt are dynamic forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, who have combined for 31 percent of their team’s goals this season. Seguin has forced his way into the Hart Trophy discussion late in the season, tallying 74 points (32G, 42A) in 68 games this year, good for fifth in the league; his five games with four-plus points and three hat tricks—including one four-goal game—also pace the NHL. Stars captain Benn has scored a goal in six of the last nine games and has seven goals during that stretch, compiling 69 points (30G, 39A) on the year.
Earlier in the month, it looked like Kari Lehtonen could be lost for the year, but the Dallas netminder was back in action on Monday against Winnipeg, making 32 saves in the 2-1 win. While Tuesday’s starter has yet to be named, Lehtonen has proven to be stiff competition against Chicago; he has allowed just 13 even-strength goals to the Blackhawks in 12 career meetings, and already has a 47-save gem against them this year. If the Stars go to their backup, the Blackhawks would face the recently acquired Tim Thomas, who has gone 1-2-1 for Dallas since being traded from Florida.
No matter who is in net for either side, both teams’ goaltenders should expect to see a barrage of rubber heading their way. Chicago (33.1) and Dallas (31.8) rank among the league’s top six in shots on goal per game, and three of their players—Sharp, Benn and Seguin—are among the NHL’s top nine in terms of total shots this season. However, the Blackhawks have proven the ability to win without the puck; they have a .600 winning percentage when being outshot by an opponent, while Dallas has just a .444 success rate.
After being shut out by Nashville on Sunday, the Blackhawks have one game to right the ship before a three-game East Coast road trip beginning Thursday in Boston. The Blackhawks’ top two-way players may key on the Seguin-Benn duo, forcing some of the Chicago role players to step up and look for scoring chances. If they can get traffic in front of Lehtonen and force the goaltender to make second and third saves, they will have good chance at taking the win.