Coach Joel Quenneville expected this one to be different.
The previous four Blackhawks-Dallas Stars matchups have been wide open, with the Stars winning three of them easily. This time, Quenneville was looking for a close checking game.
“I expect that kind of game tonight start to finish,” he said.
He didn’t get it.
Vernon Fiddler scored two goals as the Stars handed the Blackhawks another lopsided loss, this one 6-2 at the United Center. The Stars, who remain atop the Central Division with 97 points, clinched a playoff berth.
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The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are winless in six of their last seven. They remain in third in the Central Division, at least for now, with 91 points; Nashville, however, is pushing hard and sits in fourth with 87 points.
The frustration is mounting a bit.
“You can’t blame it on bad luck; you just need to work through some of these games we’re not getting the bounces. You have to work and earn the bounces,” Jonathan Toews said. “We didn’t do that early, again we go down 4-0 — feel like we’ve done that a bunch of times against this team, even at home — it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to get back into the game. And once again that’s what we saw tonight.”
Andrew Shaw and Richard Panik each scored his second goal in as many games. But those were about the only bright spots in an otherwise forgettable game for the Blackhawks.
All seemed fine until about 11 and a half minutes in, when Colton Sceviour scored from behind the net, his shot going off Scott Darling’s stick. Just 25 seconds after that Sceviour, once again behind the net, fed Fiddler in front of it for a 2-0 lead. Despite those bang-bang goals, Patrick Kane said the Blackhawks shouldn’t have gotten down.
“I mean there’s still a lot of game left,” he said. “But you take a penalty and they score on the power play, you get a power play thinking you’ll get one back and I made a bad play at the blue line there and they get a breakaway. Next thing you know they’re up 4-0 again in this building, and it seems like it’s the same game that was here last time. Obviously it’s not the first period we wanted.”
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No, it wasn’t. And with two more goals later in the period — Patrick Eaves’ power-play goal and Fiddler’s short-handed goal — the Stars were up 4-0 after the first. The Blackhawks skated to the locker room as the United Center crowd booed.
“Halfway through, after one ... basically we’re done early in the game and it’s hard to tell on how to measure,” Quenneville said. “We have two pucks behind our goal line end up in the net, too easy to give up two quick goals like that. Then we make a mistake on our (penalty kill), then it’s a shorty and it was just hard to watch.”
It didn’t get better through the second and third periods, either. Michael Leighton came in to relieve Darling to start the second. Leighton stopped 16 of 17, but the Blackhawks never really got anything going.
What looked like they were hiccups earlier this season have turned into major struggles for the Blackhawks now. They look shaken and their spot among the Central Division’s top three is tenuous. There is still time to turn it around, but the Blackhawks have to respond sooner rather than later.
“We have three days here to regroup,” Kane said. “Maybe it’s what we need right now: get a little time away from games and try to regroup and know what we’re going to do going into the next little road trip here.”