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Blackhawks set to host surprising Stars

by David Kalan /

STARS (21-17-3) at BLACKHAWKS (32-5-4)


Last 10: Dallas 6-4-0; Chicago 8-1-1.

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks have won both of their games against the Dallas Stars this season, including an 8-1 romp in their last meeting on March 16 at American Airlines Center.

Big story: With the Central Division already sealed and the Western Conference's top seed seemingly well in hand, the Blackhawks are sitting in the catbird seat, but they can directly influence who they meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday when they host Dallas, which is currently one of several teams battling for the eighth seed.

Team Scope:

Stars: After trading away Jaromir Jagr, Brenden Morrow and Michael Ryder, most around the NHL assume Dallas had accepted an early spring and was looking to rebuild for 2013-14. That hasn't been the case, though, as the Stars have suddenly won five games in a row and climbed into a fight with Detroit and Columbus for the last playoff spot in the West. If the Stars do end up reaching the postseason they're certainly have earned it. Dallas' next five games are a virtual minefield of tough opponents, with visits to Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Jose, as well as a home game against Vancouver.

That may not be daunting for the Stars as it would seem, though. In its current five-game winning streak Dallas has already defeated Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose twice. If the Stars can pull out two points in Chicago, it could unexpectedly make them the favorite to emerge out of the pack with the final playoff berth in the conference.

Blackhawks: The Blackhawks have already clinched the Central Division championship and hold a hefty nine-point edge over the Anaheim Ducks for the West's top seed with a game in hand to boot. Given that kind of cushion, it would be understandable if Joel Quenneville began resting his players, though such a strategy might run the risk of building up some rust before the postseason.

If Sunday was any indication however, that won't be the tack Quenneville takes. Chicago scratched and clawed in a physical game against the St. Louis Blues, pulling out a 2-0 win courtesy of a 30-save performance by goalie Corey Crawford. The win was fifth in a row for the Blackhawks, who haven't lost in regulation in more than two weeks, a span of eight games. Chicago has a decent opportunity to extend the run and seal the West's top seed over the coming week. The Blackhawks will play their next three games at home.

Who's hot: Bryan Bickell has three goals in his past five games for Chicago, including the game-winner against St. Louis on Sunday. ... Vernon Fiddler has just 16 points in 39 games for Dallas this season, but a whopping 10 of those points have come in the past six games.

Injury report: After sitting out Chicago's win against St. Louis on Sunday, Patrick Sharp (upper-body injury) is questionable to play against Dallas. … Kari Lehtonen, who has missed the last two games since suffering a lower-body injury against Los Angeles last Tuesday, is questionable to play Monday. Lane MacDermid (upper-body injury) is out indefinitely.

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