Blackhawks look to continue to shoot down Stars (Dec 11, 2016)
CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks struggled badly against the Dallas Stars last season as they lost four out of five games.
This season has been a different story. The Blackhawks have won each of their first two contests against the Stars, and they will try to make it three for three on Sunday night.
However, Chicago (17-8-4) will not be at full strength this time around when it hosts Dallas (11-12-6). The Blackhawks will play without top goaltender Corey Crawford (emergency appendectomy) and captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body injury), and the status of defenseman Brent Seabrook is uncertain because of an upper-body injury.
The Stars also have been plagued by injuries this season, but they could welcome back forward Jiri Hudler (illness) and defenseman Johnny Oduya (lower-body injury) against Chicago. Hudler has not played since Nov. 1, and Oduya has been sidelined since Nov. 19.
Hudler scored 47 goals over the past two seasons but has appeared in only four games since signing a free agent contract with Dallas during the offseason.
“We know what Jiri brings,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s creative. He can make plays.”
Ruff’s squad could use another playmaker. The Stars are 2-4-1 in their past seven games, including a 4-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.
A tough task awaits the Stars as they prepare for the second game of a back-to-back set. Chicago is 11-2-3 on home ice, while Dallas is 4-8-4 on the road.
Both of the Blackhawks’ wins against Dallas this season have been decided by one goal. Chicago earned a 3-2 win Nov. 5 in Dallas and a 4-3 overtime win the next night in Chicago. On the season, the Blackhawks are 11-4-4 in one-goal games.
Goaltender Scott Darling is set to make his fifth straight start in place of Crawford for the Blackhawks. Darling is 5-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average this season, and he has posted a stellar .950 save percentage (115 saves on 121 shots on goal) in his last four starts.
The Stars have not announced whether Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi will start in net. Lehtonen allowed three goals on 21 shots on Saturday against the Flyers.
Both goaltenders have started once against Chicago this season. Niemi gave up three goals on 32 shots Nov. 5, and Lehtonen surrendered four goals on 33 shots the following day.
Chicago is looking to break out of a slump on offense. The team led by Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane has been limited to zero or one goals in three of the past four games.
Seabrook is not known as a goal scorer, but his possible return could steady the blue line. The 31-year-old took part in practice on Saturday afternoon for the first time since his injury, which happened Tuesday night when he fell into the boards and appeared to hit his head.
“(Seabrook) skating today was a good sign, and he felt pretty good,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who did not say whether the defenseman would face Dallas.
During a post-practice interview with reporters, Seabrook tried to steady his breathing.
“I felt really good in practice,” Seabrook said. “The lungs at the end burn a little bit (working with assistant coach Mike Kitchen), but I’m just trying to get ready to roll. … It was weird not practicing and sitting in the rink watching the guys play. That’s something I don’t want to make a habit of, for sure.”