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No clowning as Blackhawks return from 'Circus Trip'

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Five days after the Chicago Blackhawks won a memorable 11-round shootout against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center, the Central Division opponents will meet again Tuesday night at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).

The Blackhawks (20-4-4) will host the Stars (12-9-4) in their first game since going a franchise-best 6-1-0 during their annual November "Circus Trip," when their arena hosts the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Just like last season, when the Blackhawks ran through the Western Conference with little trouble in the 48-game regular season, they aren't clowning around. Chicago has won six in a row, is 15-3-2 in the past 20 games, and leads the NHL with 44 points through 28 games.

"I thought we had a real good trip, [with] every game played the right way," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we stabilized a situation that was getting a little bit out of hand with goals against, and I thought we were rock solid in all zones defensively and we had a lot of offense because of that. I love that consistency with the four lines and how we're playing."

Patrick Kane was named the NHL's First Star of the Month for November; he scored nine goals, including four game-winners, and finished with 19 points. He had a 12-game point streak.

"He played great," Quenneville said. "He had a great start to the season. In the month of November he was outstanding, had the point streak going and it seems like he has the puck more than he has in the past. It seems like every time he hits the ice he has the puck, and that's a good thing."

Dallas, which will play its second straight game without center Tyler Seguin (concussion symptoms) and defenseman Stephane Robidas (leg fracture), is last in the Central (28 points) and six points back of the Phoenix Coyotes for the Western Conference's second wild card. It's still early, but the Stars can ill afford to keep losing ground.

"In this conference, you can't lose," defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "You've got to get points somehow, whether it be going to overtime or going to shootouts, whatever it might be. For us, it's hockey and you're going to have to cope with [the injuries]."

Instead of coming to Chicago, Seguin flew to Toronto, where he'll meet up with the Stars and get reassessed prior to the game Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Chicago will play without forward Michal Handzus, who is sick. Defenseman Sheldon Brookbank will most likely fill in at forward, playing right wing on the third line.

Corey Crawford will start in goal for the Blackhawks, and Kari Lehtonen will start for Dallas.

Here is how the Stars and Blackhawks might line up:


Jamie Benn - Cody Eakin - Alex Chiasson

Antoine Roussel - Vernon Fiddler - Ryan Garbutt

Ray Whitney - Dustin Jeffrey - Rich Peverley

Erik Cole - Shawn Horcoff - Valeri Nichushkin

Alex Goligoski - Trevor Daley

Brenden Dillon - Sergei Gonchar

Jordie Benn - Kevin Connauton

Kari Lehtonen

Dan Ellis

Scratched: Jamie Oleksiak, Travis Morin

Injured: Tyler Seguin (concussion symptoms), Aaron Rome (lower body), Stephane Robidas (leg fracture)


Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Brandon Pirri - Patrick Kane

Kris Versteeg - Andrew Shaw - Sheldon Brookbank

Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

Scratched: Michal Handzus (day-to-day, illness)

Injured: Bryan Bickell (lower body), Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body), Michael Kostka (foot)

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