Posted March 15, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Chicago Blackhawks wouldn't have qualified for last season's playoffs if not for the Dallas Stars' season-ending defeat. Having earned at least one point in six of their last seven games, the Blackhawks are trying to make it back to the postseason on their own despite Jonathan Toews' lengthy absence. Even with its captain healthy, Chicago has struggled against Dallas lately and may face more trouble against a red-hot Stars team seeking to bounce back from a rare regulation defeat Friday night. The Blackhawks (38-25-8) finished two points ahead of the Stars in 2010-11 Western Conference standings thanks to Dallas' 5-3 loss in Minnesota on the season's final day. Chicago helped its chances in this season's race and perhaps got a big boost mentally with a 4-3 shootout win over league points leader St. Louis on Tuesday. Chicago trailed 3-1 after the first period, but Corey Crawford stymied the Blues thereafter in relief of Ray Emery. He made 18 saves and stopped all three shooters in the extra session for his first win since Feb. 21. "I just had to make sure I had a key save at a certain time in the game," Crawford said. "I was hungry. ... That's a huge two points for us." That game was the Blackhawks' 11th in a row without Toews, who is suffering from an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. Toews has resumed practicing but hasn't been cleared for contact. Chicago is 6-4-1 in his absence and 5-1-1 over its last seven. The Blackhawks' 84 points are one more than Dallas (39-27-5), but the Stars have a better chance to finish higher in the standings because they're challenging for their first Pacific Division title since 2005-06. Dallas surged into contention for that crown with a 10-0-1 run but had trouble with a well-rested Winnipeg during a 5-2 defeat Wednesday. The Stars were playing the second of back-to-back games, while the Jets had the benefit of four days off. After shutting out consecutive opponents, Dallas gave up all five goals in the first 36:12 as its season-high, six-game win streak came to an end. "We beat ourselves. We didn't play well. We turned pucks over way too easy," defenseman Stephane Robidas told the team's website. "We didn't play a simple game like we've been doing in the past 11, 12 games. We just got to go back to basics." The Blackhawks will have had one more day of rest than the Stars heading into Friday's game, but they've lost three straight in Dallas. Chicago fell 2-1 at the American Airlines Center in the season opener Oct. 7 but rebounded for a 5-2 home win the following night. Dallas had a 3-1 win at Chicago on Feb. 23 during its 11-game point streak and has won five of six in the series. Mike Ribeiro has led the way with seven points during those six games and Steve Ott has a team-best four goals. Ott also has a combined eight over his last 10 matchups, but he hasn't scored since last month's win in Chicago, a span of nine games. Ott will get his chance to try to end that drought against Crawford, who is 2-4-0 with a 3.03 goals-against average in six career starts against Dallas. Stars top goaltender Kari Lehtonen has won four straight over the Blackhawks but made his only start against them this season Oct. 7.
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