DALLAS — After winning their fifth straight game with a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night at American Airlines Center, the Dallas Stars earned a well-deserved day off from second-year head coach Glen Gulutzan on Sunday.
However, while the Stars won’t be practicing on Sunday, they will be traveling to Chicago in advance of Monday’s rematch with the Blackhawks, the same team that ran them out of their own barn with an 8-1 drubbing back on March 16 that ranks as the definite low point in this season.
Dallas has gone 9-5-0 since that loss to the Hawks nearly one month ago, and while Gulutzan and his team consider that result an anomaly, especially in light of their strong recent form, it is still one they will discuss prior to Monday night’s battle at United Center.
“I think we’re going to talk a little bit in our room about what happened the last time we played them. I don’t think we have to talk about it, but I think it’s going to be there,” Gulutzan said. “We have to come out with a gutsy effort. They’re a great team, but we have to get our rest today then just refocus on them. We can’t worry about who’s on the ice or who we’re playing against. We have to continue to focus on our game.”
On Saturday, the Stars got first-period goals from Eric Nystrom and from rookie Alex Chiasson, who scored his sixth career goal in his sixth NHL game, in the win. Gulutzan and his players are clearly impressed with what the 21-year-old rookie forward has brought to the table thus far small sample size or not.
“He played good. It was a smart by [Ray] Whitney and our power play got us an important one, especially early if you get one on the power play there when you’re back to back that helps. I thought he did a good job tonight,” Gulutzan said of his young rookie.
And the other star on the night was backup goaltender Richard Bachman, who stopped 31 of 32 San Jose shots to earn his third win in as many games. Since coming on for starter Kari Lehtonen late in the first period of Monday’s 5-1 win over the L.A. Kings, Bachman has stopped 79 of the 82 shots he’s faced, giving him a righteous save percentage of .963.
Bachman has performed very well and while it remains to be seen whether he starts on Monday in the Windy City or if Lehtonen indeed returns, he is just enjoying the ride with a club who has clearly got some seriously good mojo working right now.
“A lot of people counted us out at the trade deadline,” Bachman said. “I think we had two choices-one was to just give in and go through the motions and hopefully get some points down the stretch and get ready for summer, or to try and prove people wrong. There’s a lot more to play for than just playoffs. There’s jobs and people thinking we weren’t in it, so I think we all just decided to have fun with it, take every day for what it is, because we’re pretty lucky to do what we do.”
Lehtonen went through a pretty strenuous skate on Saturday morning along with injured Stars winger Lane MacDermid, who continues to be sidelined with a chest issue, but his status remains day-to-day heading into Monday.
“We hope so [that Lehtonen will be able to go on Monday] but we’ll see what happens. He’s day to day,” Gulutzan said.
With 45 points, the Stars are currently in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, which means they are in the playoffs. But with just seven games remaining until the end of the lockout-shortened 48-game regular season, four on the road and three at home, the importance of each and every shift and game cannot be overstated considering what’s currently on the line for this club.
But with 41 games in the books, the Stars currently rank ninth in the NHL at goals per game, averaging 2.78 each time they hit the ice, solid numbers indeed for a club many counted out after the deadline when veterans like Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy were dealt in return for prospects.
Sure, Chicago had the Stars’ number and then some the last time these two clubs squared off, but with the way Gulutzan and Company are playing right now with their Three Musketeers mentality of all for one and one for all, is there any reason to think they can’t leave Chicago with a win or at least a point? Definitely not at this point.