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Stars open homestand with impressive 5-2 win over Blackhawks

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

If Friday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks was a big test, the Dallas Stars passed. And they passed impressively. The Stars regained first place in the Central Division and Western Conference with a 5-2 rout of the Blackhawks at American Airlines Center.

"We got done what we wanted to get done,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I thought we slowed their attack and won the special teams battle. We got a big effort. That was a real big team effort from goaltender through the defense, our young defense. I thought the forwards did a heck of a job supporting them."

The Stars, who opened a challenging five-game homestand Friday, led 1-0 after one period and then blew the game open with three straight goals in the second period to extend their lead to 4-0.

“We were aggressive, and we played a full 60 minutes,” said Stars defenseman Kris Russell. “We’re going to need that effort down the stretch and again tomorrow night because we’ve got another good team (St. Louis) coming.”

Special teams came up big for the Stars. The power play scored twice, and the penalty kill went 5-5 against the league’s top ranked power play.

“In today’s game, especially late in the season, games get really tight and if you can win the special teams battle that’s a real plus,” Russell said. “I thought as killers we battled hard, made some blocks and got pucks out. The PP did a good job finding the back of the net.”

The Stars, playing without three regular defensemen in John Klingberg, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn, limited Chicago to 23 shots on goal while relying on some young defensemen.

“I thought [the play of our young defensemen] was excellent,” Ruff said. “Maybe a couple of moments here and there but I thought they played excellent. I thought they moved the puck well and thought they were physical. They played within their parameters which is all you can ask.”

Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Ales Hemsky all had one goal and one assist. Benn and Seguin snapped goal scoring droughts while Spezza scored for the eighth time in the past nine games. Antoine Roussel also scored. Kari Lehtonen stopped 21 of 23 shots, including a big save in the first period on Artemi Panarin that prevented Chicago from taking the early lead.


       Ruff on Spezza: "Everything he shoots goes in"
       Roussel on the intensity of tonight's game
       Strader & Razor: The Checklist
       Razor had a blast tonight

The Stars ran their points streak to 3-0-1 and improved to 41-20-8 on the season and are one point ahead of St. Louis and two points up on Chicago in the race for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference. The Stars play St. Louis at the AAC Saturday night.

“We're all tight in the standings,” Spezza said. “We had to try to take two points off these guys; now we 've got to try to take two points off St. Louis. We know it's going to go right down to the wire for the division.”

Chicago, which lost in a shootout at St. Louis on Wednesday, fell to 41-22-6 on the season and dropped to third place in the tight Central/West race.

“We’d love to finish high as we can. First is what we’re looking and thinking about; it’s not like we’re a million points back,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “One game tonight and we weren’t very good but I think we rectified our road woes from the beginning part of the season, and I think we’ve been playing better on the road lately. It’s one game.”

While special teams were a positive for the Stars, they were a negative for Chicago. The Blackhawks, who came into the game 15-32 on the power play in their previous ten games, were 0-5 Friday. Their penalty kill continued to struggle and allowed two goals on six chances. Over the past 13 games, Chicago has allowed 16 power-play goals.

“We definitely have to focus on it more. That’s what it comes down to,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. “We know that when there’s something that’s really sticking out in our game, if we address it, put even more focus on it, work on it, there’s nothing we can’t rectify and can’t improve on.”

Special teams were big early in the game. The Stars killed off back-to-back Chicago power plays, then went on their first chance with the man-advantage and cashed in when Spezza scored off a snap shot from the high slot at the 11:08 mark of the first period.

The Stars scored three straight goals in the second period to extend their lead to 4-0. Alex Goligoski circled the Chicago net and centered the puck to Roussel, who scored from close range to make it 2-0 at the 1:09 mark. Spezza sent a pass from the corner to Seguin, who scored from about ten feet out to put Dallas up 3-0 at 5:06 of the second. That goal snapped a six-game goal scoring drought for Seguin. The Stars scored their second power-play goal of the night at the 10:42 mark when a Seguin centering pass when in off Benn’s skate. The goal snapped a seven-game goal scoring drought for Benn.

“It was nice,” Benn said of breaking his drought. “I was happier when Seggy scored and the other guys scored than when I did. They are not pretty all the time, and you’ll take what you can get. If it’s kicking one in, then I will take it.”

The Benn goal chased Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, who was replaced by Scott Darling. Chicago got on the board at 13:01 of the second when Teuvo Teravainen scored from close range after the Stars got pinned in their own end.

Quenneville pulled Darling for an extra attacker with eight minutes left in the game, but Hemsky sealed the win with an empty-net goal. Chicago’s Tomas Fleischmann scored in the final minute to make it a 5-2 final.

And now the Stars move on to the Blues.

“St. Louis might be the best team in the league right now with the way they’re playing,” Ruff said. “They’re healthier, and they won again tonight (5-2 over Anahiem). It’s going to be put this one away and get ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s task is going to be even a little more daunting.”

Defenseman Stephen Johns made his NHL debut Friday night. He played 17:27 and had three shot attempts, three hits and three blocked shots.

“I thought he skated well, I thought he was physical when he could be,” Ruff said. “He shot one that went high and hard, but again stayed within the parameters. Didn't overreach himself and made the simple plays, made the effective plays."

“It’s unbelievable,” Johns said of his first NHL game. “Honestly, I can’t describe how I feel right now. 20 years of working for this day, it finally came. I can’t put into words how happy I am. For my family, especially my brother and sister to be here. Words can’t describe how happy I am.”

*The Stars are 3-1-0 vs. Chicago this season.

*The Stars are 15-7-2 vs. the Central Division.

*The Blackhawks are 11-10-2 vs. the Central Division.

*The Stars outshot the Blackhawks 31-23 and Chicago had a 61 advantage in shot attempts.

*Tyler Seguin led the Stars with 8 shots on goal 11 shot attempts.

*The Stars were 2-6 on the power play and 5-5 on the penalty kill.

*Stars center Jason Spezza registered two points in the game to reach 800 career points.

*Spezza has eight goals in his past nine games.

*The Stars won 28 of 63 faceoffs (44 percent).

*Spezza won 9 of 14 faceoffs (64 percent). Radek Faksa won 8 of 16 (50 percent). Cody Eakin won 7 of 19 (33 percent). Vernon Fiddler won 4 of 12 (33 percent).

*Kris Russell led the Stars with 27:24 of ice time. Johnny Oduya was next with 23:17.

*Friday’s attendance was 18,532, a sellout.

The Stars continue their homestand Saturday night, taking on the St. Louis Blues at American Airlines Center. The Stars lead the Blues by one point in the race for first in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Jamie BennCody EakinPatrick Eaves

Valeri NichushkinJason SpezzaTyler Seguin

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaAles Hemsky

Mattias JanmarkVernon FiddlerBrett Ritchie

Kris RussellAlex Goligoski

Johnny OduyaStephen Johns

Patrik NemethJamie Oleksiak

Kari Lehtonen

Antti Niemi

Injured: John Klingberg (lower body), Jason Demers (shoulder), Patrick Sharp (lower body), Jordie Benn (lower body)

Scratched: Colton Sceviour, Travis Moen

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 reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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