The Chicago Blackhawks have been the best team in the Western Conference for the last two months, but even they’re likely to be impressed by the Dallas Stars’ current run.
The Stars head to Chicago on Sunday night seeking their ninth win in 10 games, while the Blackhawks begin an extended period without a top forward.
Kris Versteeg, third on the team with 27 points in 34 games a season after totaling 36 in 81, is expected to miss a month with a left hand injury suffered in Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Washington. The Blackhawks (25-11-2) have recalled top prospect Teuvo Teravainen.
The Stars (18-14-5) have won eight of nine while scoring 3.67 goals per game and are in position to win five straight for the first time since April 5-13, 2013. The last two have been especially dominant with consecutive six-goal wins after Saturday’s 7-1 embarrassment of Minnesota concluded a three-game homestand.
"I think it’s been a lot of different things," coach Lindy Ruff told the team’s official website. "At times, it’s been real strong goaltending for us. Other games it’s been (being) real sound on offense and defense. The last couple we’ve probably played as well in our own end as we’ve played all year, and when you spend that little bit of time in your own end that allows you to go up ice and do some good things."
Vernon Fiddler scored twice, Jamie Oleksiak had three assists, and Erik Cole, Brett Ritchie and Tyler Seguin each had a goal and an assist Saturday. Ten different players have scored in the last two games, and Dallas’ power play is 5 for 16 during the winning streak.
The Stars also have a chance to extend their season-best four-game road winning streak, but the Blackhawks have won nine of 10 in Chicago with 37 goals scored. That includes a 6-2 victory over Dallas on Nov. 16 behind a goal and two assists from Versteeg.
Chicago has won both meetings this season and has averaged 4.27 goals over a 10-1-0 run in the series.
Patrick Kane has 18 points in his last 10 games against the Stars, while Duncan Keith has 10 on a six-game series point streak with four straight multipoint efforts and a three-game scoring streak.
After the Winter Classic loss to the Capitals, Chicago is in danger of losing consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 1-2. It’s gone 19-6-1 since with a conference-leading 39 points. Only the New York Islanders have more (41), but they’ve played one more game.
Chicago has allowed nine first-period goals in four games after conceding two to the Capitals, but captain Jonathan Toews dismissed that as an area of concern.
"I don’t know if I’d throw that in with any sort of trend that’s been going with the way we’ve been playing recently," Toews told the team’s official website. "Sometimes it happens. The good news is we’re able to reverse that momentum a little bit and battle our way back. You never want to put yourself in that situation but if you do, we have confidence we can come out of it."
Corey Crawford will face the Stars and try to improve on a 1.86 goals-against average over a 8-1-0 stretch against them.
Crawford, though, is likely more concerned with regaining his early-season form than continued dominance of Dallas. In five games since returning from a lower-body injury, Crawford is 2-2-1 with a 3.17 GAA. Prior to the injury, he was 12-5-1 with a 1.87 GAA.
Should Kari Lehtonen start for Dallas, he’ll have the opposite concern. After making 21 saves against Minnesota, he has a 1.50 GAA over a 4-0-0 stretch.
Against Chicago, he has a 3.73 GAA over a 1-6-3 span.