The Dallas Stars clinched a playoff spot Tuesday night, and they did it with an impressive win, routing the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-2, at United Center.
“It’s huge,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “It’s a goal at the start of the year for every team to make the playoffs. It’s a step in the right direction for us.”
“It’s really step one in what we are trying to accomplish. To go on the road and beat this team to clinch is a good accomplishment. But now we are off to our next goal,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Clinching is really important, but now it is moving on and making sure our game is in the right place. We’ve been playing some good hockey lately.”
The Stars, who are headed to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, are 4-1-1 in their past six games and 6-1-2 over the past nine. They currently sit on top of the Central Division and Western Conference with 97 points (44-21-9). The Stars remained two points ahead of second-place St. Louis and extended their lead over the third-place Blackhawks to six points.
The Stars won four of five games from Chicago this season, outscoring the Blackhawks 20-11. Both times the two teams met in Chicago, the Stars headed into the first intermission with a 4-0 lead. Tuesday night the Stars scored twice at even strength, once on the power play and once shorthanded over a 7:09 span of the first period.
“It’s one of those buildings you’ve got to be ready to go, or you are going to get it handed to you,” said Stars center Vernon Fiddler, who scored twice in the first period. “We came out and we were really prepared, stuck to the game plan and capitalized on our opportunities.”
Fiddler scored two goals for Dallas. Colton Sceviour, Patrick Eaves, Radek Faksa and Cody Eakin also scored. Kari Lehtonen turned in another solid performance in goal, stopping 30 of 32 shots to improve to 6-1-1 over his past eight starts.
The Blackhawks (42-25-7) lost for the sixth time in the past seven games (1-4-2).
“We just have to have that unshakeable confidence that good teams go through moments like this,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. “It doesn’t matter what you do; things just don’t go your way. At the end of the day, we just have to remind ourselves that we have to work through it. That’s the only way it is going to get better.”
Everything went the Stars way in the first period. Sceviour opened the scoring at the 11:34 mark, banking the puck in off goaltender Scott Darling to put the Stars up 1-0. Twenty-five seconds later, Brett Ritchie and Sceviour set up Fiddler, who scored from close range to make it a 2-0 Dallas lead.
The Stars extended to the lead to 3-0 with a power-play goal at the 16:01 mark. Jamie Benn set up Eaves, who ripped a shot past Darling from the slot.
Chicago went on a power play late in the period and Fiddler struck again, winning a race to the puck at the Dallas blue line and finishing off a shorthanded breakaway with a backhand shot to make it 4-0 Dallas at 18:43 of the first.
“Two pucks behind our goal line end up in our net. We make a mistake on the PK and then it’s a shorty. It was hard to watch,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.
Michael Leighton took over in the Chicago goal to start the second period. The Blackhawks finally got on the board late in the second when Andrew Shaw batted a rebound past Lehtonen at the 16:23 mark to make it a 4-1 game. But Faksa answered less than three minutes later, scoring on a two-on-one rush to give the Stars a 5-1 lead at 18:58 of the second.
Richard Panik scored midway through the third to cut the Dallas lead to 5-2, but Eakin scored into an empty net with 6:12 remaining to round out the scoring and make it a 6-2 final.
Stars defenseman Kris Russell was a game-time decision Tuesday night and the decision was to hold him out with a lower-body injury.
“He’s real close, but it was 50-50 whether I wanted to put him in. He wanted to play bad, but in the end, I kept him out,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think it is the right thing to do. We’ve got some healthy defensemen, and we don’t want a setback. We’ll have the same decision when we play Arizona, whether we get him in, or I hold him out again.”
With Russell not playing, Jordie Benn came back into the lineup. Benn had missed the previous eight games with a lower-body injury.
*The Stars are 16-7-3 vs. the Central Division.
*The Stars are 6-3-2 against Western Conference playoff contenders since the All-Star break.
*The Blackhawks are 0-8-2 in their past ten games against Western Conference playoff contenders.
*The Stars outshot Chicago 33-32. The Blackhawks had a 72-46 advantage in attempted shots.
*Cody Eakin led the Stars with 6 shots on goal and 7 shot attempts.
*Eakin has points in five straight games (4 goals, 3 assists).
*The Stars were 1-3 on the power play and 3-3 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars won 26 of 59 faceoffs (44 percent).
*Radek Faksa won 9 of 16 faceoffs (56 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 6 of 12 (50 percent). Jason Spezza won 5 of 12 (42 percent). Cody Eakin won 5 of 16 (31 percent).
*Stars captain Jamie Benn played in his 500th NHL game Tuesday.
*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 23:32 of ice time.
The Stars continue their three-game road trip when they play at Arizona on Thursday. This will be the second of three meetings between the Stars and Coyotes. The Coyotes won the first meeting, 6-3, in Arizona on Feb. 18.
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Valeri Nichushkin – Jason Spezza – Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour – Vernon Fiddler – Brett Ritchie
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
Patrik Nemeth – Jordie Benn
Injured: Kris Russell (lower body), Mattias Janmark (upper body), Tyler Seguin (Achilles), Jason Demers (shoulder)
Scratched: Travis Moen, Jamie Oleksiak
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.