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Hawks head to Dallas for opening night

by David Kalan /

BLACKHAWKS (0-0-0) at STARS (0-0-0)


Season series
: This is the first meeting of the season for the Western Conference rivals, who meet again Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago. The Stars took three of four games from the Blackhawks in 2010-11.

Big Story: When the Blackhawks squeaked into the postseason through the back door on the final night of the regular season, it was because the Stars were unable to close out a win against the Wild in Minnesota. As the two teams open the 2011-12 season, Dallas can get a small measure of revenge by taking two points from Chicago.

Team Scope:

The Hawks' bid to defend their Stanley Cup came to a painful end last April. Chicago rallied from a 3-0 series deficit against Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver to force a Game 7, forced overtime with a late shorthanded goal, but lost 2-1 in OT after a giveaway in the defensive zone by the since-departed Chris Campoli. Having spent most of 2010-11 trying to deal with a remade lineup after the team's salary cap-induced roster purge, the Hawks never appeared to find quite the same rhythm they had while winning the Stanley Cup 16 months ago.

In an attempt to restore his team's lost depth, GM Stan Bowman added grit and veteran savvy to a roster that was still very young despite its championship pedigree. New pieces like Dan Carcillo and Andrew Brunette will be expected to provide what the Hawks were missing in their title defense last season, while mainstays like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are still young enough that their games have plenty of room to grow.

Stars: The biggest fish in this past summer's free agency period was almost certainly forward Brad Richards, who departed Dallas for New York and a big-money deal with the Rangers. Filling the void left by Richards and his point-per-game average is likely to be the biggest issue for the Stars heading into the season, and while the Stars won't find that productivity in one individual, several roster changes were made to add more depth to a team that missed the postseason by the narrowest of margins last spring.

The biggest addition might be defenseman Sheldon Souray, who spent last season in the AHL after a protracted contract dispute with the Edmonton Oilers. There is much anticipation from Dallas camp that his booming shot from the point and determination to prove he can still play after a tough season will provide a tremendous boost for the Stars, as will the steadily increasing maturity of young holdovers like Loui Eriksson and veterans like Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro.

Who's Hot: Chicago recalled 20-year-old center Brandon Pirri on Thursday ahead of the season opener and with good reason: The young pivot had four goals in the preseason. ... One of Dallas' many imports, Michael Ryder, scored three times in the Stars' seven preseason games.

Injury Report: Dave Bolland (upper-body injury) and Ben Smith (concussion) will both be out Friday night, but Patrick Sharp is expected to play for the Hawks after recovering from an appendectomy this summer. … Jamie Benn (groin), Adam Burish (groin) and Brenden Morrow (knee) are all probably for the Stars, while Nicklas Grossman will be out with a groin issue.

Stat Pack: If one is the loneliest number than it must be particularly lonely for Stars. Dallas needed just one more win in regulation or overtime last season to make the postseason and send the defending champion Blackhawks home for an early spring.

Puck Drop: Considering the Stars' missed playoff berth wasn't directly at the hands of Chicago last April, few teams in the League might have a bigger cross to bear against another than the Stars do against the Blackhawks. Taking the first game of the season would be a big statement for Dallas as it looks to return to the postseason and given that the Stars won the season series between these teams last season, it's a good bet they feel like they can keep the trend going.

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