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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks square off with Stars tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks square off with Stars tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Dallas Stars tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling's regulation shutout streak.

Darling had two shutouts in his first 44 starts of his NHL career, and nearly matched that total in back-to-back games after he pitched a 22-save shutout over the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday and stopped 36 straight shots before allowing the 37th one to get by in a 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Friday. While his shutout streak came to an end, he still hasn't allowed a regulation goal in 124:45 minutes. The Lemont native has been terrific in Corey Crawford's absence and will look to continue that against a divisional opponent tonight.

2. Shoot from everywhere.

The Stars have allowed the most goals of any team (93) this season, giving up 3.21 goals per game. They allowed 2.78 goals per game last year, which was the highest among all 16 playoff teams. Their defense has gotten worse, and their offense has dipped to 17th at 2.55 goals per game after finishing No. 1 in that category a year ago at 3.23. Shoot from any angle and it may find a way to sneak in.

3. Redemption on the power play.

In the first two meetings, which resulted in Chicago wins, the Blackhawks had 10 power-play opportunities but cashed in on only one of those. The Stars are coming off a game where they allowed three goals on the man advantage in a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers yesterday and have a penalty kill percentage that ranks fourth-worst at 76.7. They've also given up at least a power-play goal in seven of their last 10 games. It's a vulnerable area for them right now — and has been all year — so it's important the Blackhawks keep pressing.

4. Questionable statuses for several Stars.

After missing 23 games with an undisclosed illness, Jiri Hudler was activated off injured reserve on Friday but did not play in yesterday's game against the Flyers despite coach Lindy Ruff saying he was available. He could draw back into the lineup tonight, although it's not certain. Same with Johnny Oduya, who has been sidelined for the last three weeks with a lower-body injury. Jamie Oleksiak will also be out due to a suspension for an illegal check to the head on a Flyers forward yesterday. Former Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who missed the first two games against his former team with a concussion, is experiencing those symptoms again and remains out of the lineup.

5. Take a lead into the third.

The Blackhawks are 11-0-0 when leading after two periods this season, and are one of just five teams to have a perfect winning percentage in that category. The Stars, on the other hand, are one of five teams that have yet to pick up a win when trailing after two. They're 0-10-2 in that department. Taking advantage of the Stars on the second of a back-to-back early could make putting them away easier if the Blackhawks head into the final frame with a lead.

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Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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