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Blackhawks beat Stars, inch closer to No. 1 seed

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO – The Dallas Stars were hoping to exact some revenge against the Chicago Blackhawks along with a victory and two key points in the standings. They got neither.

The Blackhawks (33-5-4) swept the three-game season series against the Stars (21-18-3) with a decisive 5-2 win at United Center on Monday night. Chicago moved two points closer to clinching the top seed of the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games and are 8-0-1 in their past nine. They have 70 points, 11 more than the second-place Anaheim Ducks in the race for the West's top spot. Both teams have six games remaining.

"It's exciting, you know?" said Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery, who made 16 saves to improve his record to 16-1-0. "You kind of feed off of the energy of the guys around you, and every night it's different guys. Lately it's been a consistent effort by most guys on the ice. It's really exciting being a part of that and gearing up for the playoffs."

After trouncing Dallas 8-1 at American Airlines Arena on March 16, the Hawks knew the Stars would be out for some payback in the rematch. It just didn't matter after Chicago got goals in the third period by Andrew Shaw and Niklas Hjalmarsson less than five minutes after Dallas center Jamie Benn tied it 2-2 with his second of the game at 3:07.

Marian Hossa, who also had a pair of assists, added an empty-net goal to seal it and give him a three-point night. Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg also found the back of the net for the Blackhawks, who are off until they play the Nashville Predators at home on Friday night.

After going through a slight lull following a 24-game point streak to start the season, the Hawks are starting to look like that same team again as the playoffs approach.

"It does feel similar that if we're down a goal or up a goal we find a way to come back and finish the job in the third period or even in overtime," said Toews, who assisted on Hjalmarsson's goal for a two-point game. "We're just playing solid hockey. I think we're hungry to play every single night and I'd say that's the No. 1 similarity."

The loss snapped a season-high five-game winning streak for the Stars and kept them two points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference playoff race.

"We kept it close, but we definitely know what we have to do to be the best and beat the best," said Benn, whose first goal was his first since March 31. "Hopefully we can just keep pushing here. We still have a chance to make the playoffs and that's what we're going for."

Backup goaltender Richard Bachman – the NHL's Third Star of the Week – started for Dallas and made 23 saves. He played pretty well considering Chicago again dominated most of the offensive chances, especially in the early going. The Hawks outshot the Stars 13-4 in the first period and 22-11 through 40 minutes.

That part was a little reminiscent of the last time they'd played, but a big difference was the score heading into the third. Chicago led just 2-1 at that point and the Stars carried some momentum into the second intermission after Benn's first goal, at 14:12, capped a 3-on-1 break and put the Stars on the board.

Prior to that, Chicago took a 2-0 lead on the goals by Toews and Stalberg. Toews grabbed the team lead in goals with his 21st of the season at 12:54 of the first period when he redirected a perfect slap pass by Hossa into the net for a 1-0 lead.

Stalberg scored his ninth goal and second in the past three games at 12:14 of the second for a 2-0 lead. The speedy Swedish forward took a pass from Michal Handzus in the neutral zone and beat Stars defenseman Philip Larsen on a rush up the middle of the ice before burying shot past Bachman's stick.

Benn scored just 1:58 later by zipping a shot from the right circle through Emery's pads, then tied the game when he stuffed the puck into the short side. The Stars were poised to pick up those all-important standings points with a nice push down the stretch, but Shaw and Kane had other ideas.

Shaw put Chicago back on top 3-2 at 4:31 -- just 1:24 after Benn tied it – with his ninth goal of the season. Kane made amends for a turnover that led to the 3-on-1 resulting in Benn's first goal by slipping a pass to Shaw in the right circle for a shot that went through traffic and beat Bachman to the far side.

Hjalmarsson added some insurance by ripping a slap shot past Bachman from the high slot at 7:46 before Hossa hit the empty net.

"They're just so solid from top to bottom," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said of the Hawks. "A couple players asked me, 'Who are they matching against?' and I said, 'They're not. They're matching their [defensemen] a little bit, but they're willing to pull out anybody there at any given time.' That just goes to show the trust the coach has in their group and the depth they have."

Dallas also got some bad news with a shoulder injury to top-line rookie forward Alex Chiasson, who'd scored six goals and added an assist in his first six games with the Stars. Chiasson left the game 1:03 into the second with a shoulder sprain and didn't return after taking a hit by Hjalmarsson.

"They had a look at his shoulder and it may be a sprain," Gulutzan said, "so he's going to be a day-to-day guy."

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