CHICAGO -- It's been almost a month since the Dallas Stars lived through a hockey nightmare against the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center.
Chicago came into "The Big D" on March 16 and put up a memorable 8-1 blowout victory on the board that included starting goalie Kari Lehtonen being chased and backup Richard Bachman also surrendering four goals -- including a Patrick Kane jaw-dropping spin-o-rama backhand number from the right circle.
Now the Stars will conclude their season series against the Blackhawks on Monday night at United Center, and things have changed considerably for Dallas. Since that Chicago rout, the Stars are 9-5-0 and currently riding a five-game win streak that's put them into contention for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a handful of other Western Conference teams.
Was that loss to the Hawks a rallying point in Dallas' playoff push?
"It didn't feel that way," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said after Monday's skate in Chicago. "It felt like a low point. We didn't like it. I keep going back to that. We didn't like it."
They did, however, take a long look in the mirror after that game -- and then made some changes, both on the ice and on the roster. After trading away veteran forwards Brenden Morrow to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jaromir Jagr to the Boston Bruins and Derek Roy to the Vancouver Canucks prior to the National Hockey League's April 3 Trade Deadline, Dallas started its current winning streak, its longest of the season.
The blowout loss to the Blackhawks, however, is probably where this recent hot spell took root.
"I look at that game and that's a great hockey team over there," Gulutzan said, looking down the hall toward the Blackhawks' locker room. "That's not a good hockey team over there. That's a top one. They were firing on all cylinders and quite honestly … it was [just] one of those games. But it stung us and it got us a little bit back to our grassroots of how we needed to play and made us look at ourselves and internalize. At those points you can either go one of two ways. You can either get better or you're going to sink. [The] character [guys] in that room didn't like it. They didn't like it at all, and we rose up from it."
Monday night, the Stars will try to exact some revenge and also pick up another important two points with seven games left to play in the regular season. Dallas comes into the game ninth in the West, but would supplant the idle Detroit Red Wings for eighth with a victory.
Lehtonen has missed the last two games with a groin injury, but Bachman's been red-hot and appears the most likely candidate to start against the Blackhawks -- whom he beat in Chicago 3-1 last season. If Lehtonen doesn't go, Gulutzan said he wouldn't be the backup, which means Cristopher Nilstorp will again be on the bench for Dallas.
Chicago did not hold a formal morning skate, but did have a handful of skaters and both goalies on the ice for some work on Monday. Star forward Patrick Sharp was not among those skating, after missing Sunday's game in St. Louis with an upper-body injury. He will likely miss Monday night's game against Dallas. Ray Emery left the ice first for the Blackhawks, which likely means he'll get the start in net after Corey Crawford posted back-to-back wins against Detroit and St. Louis. Rookie center Drew Leblanc, whom Chicago just signed as a college free agent last Friday, was also on the ice going through drills.
The 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner from St. Cloud State will meet with reporters on Monday evening before the game. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will also meet with the media prior to the game against the Stars.
Here is how the Stars and Blackhawks could line up on Monday night:
Ray Whitney – Jamie Benn – Alex Chiasson
Matt Fraser – Cody Eakin – Loui Eriksson
Eric Nystrom – Vernon Fiddler – Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel – Tom Wandell – Ryan Garbutt
Trevor Daley – Stephane Robidas
Brenden Dillon – Alex Goligoski
Aaron Rome – Philip Larsen
Scratched: Lane MacDermid (upper body, day to day), Jordie Benn, Kari Lehtonen (groin, day to day)
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Marcus Kruger – Dave Bolland – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Viktor Stalberg
Brandon Bollig – Michal Handzus – Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Michal Rozsival
Scratched: Sheldon Brookbank, Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo, Drew Leblanc, Patrick Sharp (upper body, day to day)