The Dallas Stars schedule in February is a challenging one, and so far they are off to a good start, winning three of four games in the month, all against divisional foes. But there are more tests ahead, including the next two games.
The Stars, who are 34-15-5 and rank third in the NHL with 73 points, play Thursday at Chicago which ranks second in the league with 76 points, and then they return home to take on the league-leading Washington Capitals at American Airlines Center on Saturday.
“It’s tough to circle one game and say that’s a test or a measuring stick,” said forward Patrick Sharp. “You look at the schedule in February, and every divisional game we play, all across the league teams are getting better and playing their best hockey down the stretch, and we want to make sure we do the same.
“We’re in a good position in the league standings for a reason. We have a good team; we’ve got a good coaching staff. We’ve got some big games down the stretch, and ultimately that is how our season is going to be defined.”
The Washington game will have to wait for now. It is one game at a time after all. The Blackhawks are up first. And the Stars are still smarting from their last game with Chicago, a 5-1 loss in Dallas this past weekend.
“We got a little too pumped up for that Chicago game,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “They really handed it to us. It was embarrassing.”
The Stars come into Thursday’s game in the same position they were over the weekend – three points behind Chicago in the race for the top spot in both the Central Division and Western Conference and with a chance to gain some ground.
The Stars had their chances against the Blackhawks, but they could get only one puck past Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford. And special teams play doomed the Stars. The Blackhawks scored once on the power play, twice shorthanded and once four-on-four in blowing by the Stars.
“We’ve got three games in hand, so It’s a big game,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve got to clean up some of the mistakes. We are going to get our opportunities. We have to get to their goaltender. He’s been good.”
This is the third of five meetings between the two teams. The Stars won round one, 4-0, in Dallas on December 22. Chicago took round two. And now the Stars will look to bounce back in round three.
“It’s going to be a big battle,” said Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “Chicago is playing really well. We are going to have to play better than the last time we played them.”
Stars forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya will play their first regular-season game in Chicago since being acquired by the Stars in the offseason.
Sharp, acquired via trade in July, played ten seasons in Chicago and won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks.
“It is going to be different now, and we’ve played them enough that is going to be just a hockey game,” Sharp said. “Coming back to Chicago for the first time, I think maybe it will be warm-ups and seeing familiar faces. My family will be in the crowd tomorrow, so they’ll be emotional coming back to the building and city where we had so many great memories. But you hear the same old thing, it is just another hockey game. It’s a first place team and team we are chasing in the division, but once we settle in it is just another hockey game.”
Oduya, who signed as a free agent in July, spent three-plus seasons with the Blackhawks and won two Stanley Cups.
“A lot of memories,” Oduya said. “It’s good to be back. It’s going to be a fun game.”
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.