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Key points at stake as Stars host Blackhawks

by David Kalan /
BLACKHAWKS (28-22-4) at STARS (30-18-6)


Last 10:
Chicago 5-4-1; Dallas 4-5-1

Season series: Chicago and Dallas have split two meetings this season, with the Stars taking their last showdown 4-2 on Jan. 5 at the United Center.

Big story: With the postseason race getting even tighter from all quarters, both Chicago and Dallas find themselves stuck in a playoff scramble that could leave both of them outside the West's top eight just as easily as inside. As the season hits the home stretch, Friday's game in Dallas will have two crucial points on the line for each side.

Team Scope:

After stumbling in recent weeks, the defending champs find themselves three points behind Calgary for the final playoff spot in the West. That situation wasn't helped by two straight losses on their current six-game road trip -- including one to the Flames on Monday night -- but Chicago may have stemmed the tide with a win Wednesday night in Edmonton. The Hawks topped the Oilers 4-1 thanks in part to two goals from Patrick Kane and a 23-save performance from goalie Corey Crawford, but there is still plenty of work yet to do.

For the mercurial Crawford, who appeared to be a revelation earlier this season before a recent slump, the win was his first in four starts. Crawford's spot as the starter doesn't appear to be in jeopardy yet, but with Chicago wrapping up its road trip Saturday in Phoenix, it's entirely possible that Marty Turco will get the call Friday to alleviate the strain on Crawford that comes with back-to-back games. Regardless of who is in net, Friday's visit to Dallas looms large as the clock begins to tick on Chicago's postseason hopes.

Earlier this season, Dallas was considered one of the surprising division leaders as it stockpiled points in the Pacific Division. While the Stars are still leading the pack out west, that lead has steadily dissipated to just a single point, with the Sharks impatiently nipping at their heels. For this the Stars can thank a four-game losing streak that has put a serious dent in the division-title hopes, but of even greater concern is that the Pacific, and the West, are so tight Dallas could easily fall out of the playoff picture altogether.

All five teams in the Pacific still have a very realistic shot at winning the crown, and with fifth-place L.A. knocking on the door of the top eight, a hastened tumble to the cellar is hardly out of the question for Dallas. To reverse the trend, the Stars will need to get better play between the points. Starter Kari Lehtonen has lost four straight appearances, giving up 13 goals in the process. The goaltending isn't the only issue, either. In those four games, the Stars scored just seven times.

Who's hot:
Jonathan Toews has continued to lead by example for the Hawks, tallying 10 points over his current five-game point streak. … Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson have both contributed lately, with each tallying 4 points in the last four games.

Injury report:
Marian Hossa is questionable for Chicago with an upper-body injury, while Dallas is likely to be without Raymond Sawada, who is considered questionable with a broken nose and a shoulder injury.

Stat pack:
While the Stars have held onto first place for most of this season, the numbers indicate that luck may have played a large role, and if that's the case, a day of reckoning may be coming. Dallas has outscored its opponents this season by just one goal. In contrast, Chicago has outscored its opposition by 21 goals.

Puck drop:
Both Chicago and Dallas have 28 games remaining to get themselves into secure playoff position, and while that may seem like a large number, the jam-packed Western Conference leaves little room for error on a day-to-day basis. Every game matters for the Hawks and Stars from here on out, and Friday night is no exception.

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