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Stars look to deny Blackhawks a fourth straight win

by David Kalan

BLACKHAWKS (3-0-0) at STARS (2-1-0)


Season series: This is the first of three meetings this season for Chicago and Dallas. The two teams split four games in 2011-12.

Big story: Chicago has a chance to improve on its best start in four decades and possibly get some separation atop the Central Division while a win for Dallas could be a sign that the Stars' strong start is no mirage given their competition so far.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Richard Nixon was President of the United States, Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada, "The Godfather" was the highest-grossing film in America and half of the NHL's 30 teams were not yet in the League the last time the Blackhawks opened a season with three straight wins. Chicago has quickly jumped up the Central Division standings after winning its first three games for the first time since 1972 and done so in impressive fashion. The Blackhawks have had one of the toughest opening schedules in the NHL by starting out with a road trip to visit the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and the defending Pacific Division Coyotes. Their reward for knocking off those two was a home opener against the Blues, the defending Central champs and one of the teams that has looked among the League's elite in the young season.

Topping the Blues was no easy feat, of course. After Viktor Stalberg gave Chicago a 3-0 lead early in the third period St. Louis scored twice, forcing the Hawks to sweat out the final moments. Chicago is no worse for wear, however. With a perfect record and an average of 4.67 goals per game, best among teams with three or more games played, the Hawks already look like a club with very real Stanley Cup aspirations.

Stars: Chicago's impressive start and title prospects are no surprise, but while it's certainly too early to dub Dallas a championship contender, the Stars are unexpectedly off to a strong start of their own. Dallas managed to edge Phoenix on opening night thanks to four points from the ageless Jaromir Jagr and upended the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday night courtesy of two goals from Michael Ryder. Those wins sandwiched a 1-0 loss at Minnesota on Sunday night, but Dallas is still sitting three games into the season with two wins against 2011-12 playoff teams and a grand total of four goals against.

Those are positive signs for a team that was considered a dark horse playoff candidate at best before this past weekend, particularly considering the absence of restricted free agent Jamie Benn, who has not yet signed a new contract. If the Stars can top the undefeated Blackhawks on Thursday night, it may be time to start believing in them as a factor in the deep and crowded Pacific Division.

Who's hot: It's hard to ask for a stronger start to the season than the one Patrick Kane has served up. Kane has reached the score sheet in all three of Chicago's games so far, tallying two goals and three assists. … Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen has been superb in net for the Stars, winning both of his starts this season and stopping 36 of the 40 shots he's faced.

Injury report: Dan Carcillo (lower-body injury) is out indefinitely for Chicago. … Defenseman Aaron Rome (strained groin) is expected to make his season debut for the Stars.

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