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Blackhawks' 'statement loss' to Stars tightens Central Division race

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Blackhawks' 'statement loss' to Stars tightens Central Division race

The in-game video montages honored former Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, likely stirring emotions for both.

But the Dallas Stars player who got the best of the Blackhawks on Thursday night wasn’t one of their former teammates.

Patrick Eaves recorded a first-period hat trick and the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback attempt wasn’t enough as the Stars beat the Blackhawks, 4-2, at the United Center.

The Blackhawks’ second straight loss thickens the Central Division plot. While the Blackhawks remain atop the division, the Stars now trail them by just one point. The Stars also have three games in hand.

Corey Crawford was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 first-period shots. Scott Darling stopped 14 second- and third-period shots in relief. Patrick Kane scored his 33rd goal of the season and Duncan Keith added his eighth. Kari Lehtonen was strong, especially in the third period when the Stars needed him to be. He stopped 44 shots, including 19 of 21 in the third.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Last Friday, the Blackhawks recorded what some players called a “statement” victory over the Stars in Dallas. Thursday, on the other hand…

“Well, that was a statement loss if that’s the case,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a terrible, brutal, brutal first period. We kind of stopped the bleeding in the second, good third. They scored early and it was like we had Ringette sticks tonight. No blade on our sticks.”

The Stars, meanwhile, looked tremendous from the start. They were tenacious, they won puck battles and they took advantage of the Blackhawks’ sloppy play. Eaves’ first goal was an even-strength, seeing-eye shot from an odd angle just 3:19 in the game. The Stars also scored on both of their first-period power plays. Eaves scored on both advantages, his hat-trick goal came just four seconds into the Stars’ second power play.

“We were wide open, giving them chances early. As we saw they don’t miss too often,” Jonathan Toews said. “Obviously they’ve got some firepower, their power play got them going. We get down 4-0, I think we were just kind of in a funk there, and it took us a while to really push ourselves to get out of it. So we started playing with a little confidence in the third and got on the score sheet, but as you saw, it was a little too late when it comes down to it.”

The Blackhawks put up a fight in the third period, firing 21 shots on Lehtonen. Keith’s goal came just 32 seconds into the third and Kane added his about eight minutes into it. But Lehtonen stopped all other threats.

[MORE: Chicago to host 2017 NHL Draft]

The Blackhawks were missing Artemi Panarin for the second consecutive game. Certainly that hurt them on offense – “anytime you’re missing one of your top players, it’s going to have an effect on everyone so hopefully he gets better soon,” Kane said. But Panarin’s absence wasn’t a good reason for what the Blackhawks allowed on the other end.

“We can’t give up the quality or quantity of chances to a team you know can score and attacks well,” Quenneville said. “They’re ready, it’s an important game and you come out like that. That was tough.”

The Blackhawks have been great at home this season but it’s where they’ve suffered their last two defeats. It’s not a situation over which they’ll panic, but they certainly need to be better. And they have to be better, and make the right statement, from the start next time.

“I think we expected that [the Stars] were going to come out hard, given the fact that they had a rough game and didn’t play their best against us last time we were in their building,” Toews said. “I guess we just weren’t prepared to respond to that.”

Andrew Shaw trying to find balance between toeing the line and not crossing it for Blackhawks

Andrew Shaw trying to find balance between toeing the line and not crossing it for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks brought Andrew Shaw back to Chicago because they lacked some bite to their game. He's already meeting expectations in the physicality department, leading the team with 23 hits.

But the other part of his game the Blackhawks have to live with is the amount of penalties he takes. Through six games this season, Shaw has taken at least one penalty in five of them and is tied for third among all NHL skaters with six minors. The only two skaters above him are guys who have played in two and four more games, respectively.

Because he plays on the edge, Shaw will occasionally cross it and he's trying to find that balance between toeing the line and not stepping over it.

"I find if I'm not playing on the edge, I'm not playing great," Shaw said. "I need to play physical. Even in preseason, I was just finishing checks — clean, shoulder-to-shoulder — and was getting penalty after penalty. Hockey still is a physical game. There's still hitting; it's still legal. So I'm going to go out there and play hard, make it hard on my opponents, make it hard on them physically, do what I do. Not going to change who I am now. I'm an old dog."

Shaw's reputation may also contribute to the matter. He's racked up more than 600 penalty minutes in his NHL career, including postseason, and the officials might be keeping a closer eye on him when he's on the ice.

"It's something he's got to be aware of, but I also think he's got a bullseye on him," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "If I go back through all the penalties he's taken, he probably earned a couple and he probably earned them five years ago. That's something he's got to deal with. We want him to play hard. I think we can handle the ones where he's running people over. We'll kill those off. Obviously the stick penalties and stuff we don't want. But he's playing hard for the team. That's a good thing."

Said Shaw: "The referees, no matter the history of the player, should call the game as it is. If there's a penalty, call a penalty. If there's not a penalty, you let it go. I mean, yeah, I might have been too vocal in my younger days. But the past three years I've been trying to clean it up a little bit. I just take my penalties when I get 'em. But I must have dug myself a really deep hole. Just trying to climb out of it since."

Still, Shaw knows he has to be smarter about the timing of his penalties and where they're happening. The ones that occur in the offensive zone are the penalties that must be eradicated from his game. The ones he earns from battling between the whistles and sticking up for his teammates, the Blackhawks can live with those.

"Obviously I don't want to take penalties, I don't want to put my team down," Shaw said. "I also don't agree with all of the ones I got. I think I got the short end of the stick on a lot of them. Bite my tongue, go to the box. Our PK's been working hard and competing and killing some penalties. Hopefully they start going my way, I guess."

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Robin Lehner to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

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USA Today

Robin Lehner to start in goal for Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

Robin Lehner will start in goal for the Blackhawks when they host the Vegas Golden Knights at the United Center on Tuesday, coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed after morning skate. It will be his third start of the season.

Lehner is coming off a game in which he stopped 37 of 39 shots for a save percentage of .949, which earned him the No. 3 star of the game in a 3-2 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. He was fantastic. 

Lehner is 1-0-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in two starts this season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.