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Lesson learned? Stars hope so after lopsided loss to Blackhawks

Dallas heads home for its regular-season finale, needing a solid tune-up to enter the playoffs on a roll

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Well, that wasn't how they drew it up.

Heading to Chicago to play the Blackhawks on Friday, the Stars were seeking at least a point to clinch the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference, a low-scoring affair to help them win the Jennings Trophy, and a good warm-up to take this team into the postseason on a roll.

They got none of that.

Dallas was shelled by the Blackhawks, 6-1, at United Center, ending a five-game point streak (4-0-1) and putting just a little bit of pressure on Saturday's regular-season finale against the Minnesota Wild at American Airlines Center.

"I didn't like the way we played," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "I thought we were sloppy. We tried to play a skilled game, which is not our game. That kind of game, that's not our style of hockey."

Video: Montgomery on Stars failing to establish game in loss

It was a night of "shinny," as Montgomery said. The Blackhawks have been eliminated from the playoffs, but still have some talented players chasing more numbers. Patrick Kane snapped a perfect shot in the first period, and then that just started the Stars scrambling.

"We were trying to do too much that was not in our game and that hurt us with a lot of odd-man rushes and miscommunication," said defenseman John Klingberg, who was a minus-3. "It's not a lack of effort. I've been dealing with that with my own game, trying to do too much, and I think you see a lot of that today. You're maybe trying to get yourself going, and it hurts the team."

Maybe it will be good for the Stars. Maybe they'll use the energy to rally back. Maybe they'll get a boost from a few players returning.

But it sure didn't feel good Friday.

The Stars left captain Jamie Benn, goalie Ben Bishop, forward Mats Zuccarello and defenseman Roman Polak at home. They played Brett Ritchie, Justin Dowling, Joel L'Esperance and Jamie Oleksiak. It shouldn't have been a big deal, but the team simply looked disjointed for much of the night. The juggled lines didn't meld, the defensive pairs struggled at times.

Video: DAL@CHI: L'Esperance nets PPG off Seguin's feed

That led to breakdowns in their defensive structure, and goaltender Anton Khudobin was unable to come up with the big saves he had made in recent weeks.

It was a tough night for Khudobin. The Stars entered the game fighting the New York Islanders for the Jennings Trophy, given to the team that allows the fewest goals. The Islanders gave up one on Thursday. The Stars gave up six on Friday. That pretty much gives the award to New York, even before both teams play Saturday.

"You work all year for that, so it was a source of pride for us to be a good defensive team," Spezza said. "So when you give up six goals like that, it isn't a satisfying feeling."

Montgomery considered pulling Khudobin, but said the goalie wanted to stay in. There is a chance that Ben Bishop plays Saturday, so Khudobin will get a break.

Mix into all of this the fact that Montgomery was hoping he might see some inspired play from L'Esperance, Ritchie, Dowling, Spezza and Oleksiak, and it makes the game an even tougher read. L'Esperance scored a goal, Ritchie had four hits, Dowling won five of eight faceoffs, Spezza had three shots on goal and won eight of 13 faceoffs. There was some strong individual play.

Video: Seguin says Stars will rebound to cap back-to-back

The problem was the team didn't play well together.

In addition to Benn and Zuccarello out in the forward group, Andrew Cogliano was a healthy scratch and Valeri Nichushkin was sick. That could mean more shuffling on Saturday.

Whatever the coaches decide, the Stars say they need to be better.

"I don't think it should affect us," Montgomery said of the shuffling. "Everybody has played a lot of games for us, and everybody knows how we want to play.

"We chose not to."

Video: DAL Recap: L'Esperance nets PPG in loss to Blackhawks

So, the team reracks, gets ready for Minnesota, and sets the same goals again. Get a point and secure the first wild-card playoff spot in the West. Make sure everyone is healthy and playing well. Finish with your identity intact.

The Stars were better in the third period Friday. They looked like they wanted to take the first steps in wiping the loss away.

Maybe they did. Maybe it's all part of the adversity this team has battled all season.

"We just have to focus on getting back to our foundation and muster up lots of energy to have a good game and have a good feeling going into the playoffs," Spezza said.

"We want to get the win, we want to come out strong, we want to have positive feelings going into the (next) week."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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