Dallas Stars

4 Takeaways: Blackhawks fall to Dallas Stars despite an improved power play

4 Takeaways: Blackhawks fall to Dallas Stars despite an improved power play

Rookie Dominik Kubalik scored his 26th goal of the season but the Blackhawks lost 2-1 to the Dallas Stars on Sunday. Here are four takeaways:

Opportunity lost

If the Blackhawks, currently seven points out of a playoff spot, wanted to climb in the standings before time runs out, they had to start out this four-game road trip with a win to grab some momentum. 

It was a close contest in Dallas and the effort was there, but the results didn't follow. 

Corey Crawford got his second straight start and was solid, saving 31 of 33 shots after stopping 42 of 43 in Friday's overtime win over the Nashville Predators. 

Right on, rookie

Blackhawks rookie winger Dominik Kubalik continued his fantastic first NHL season by scoring his 26th goal of the season in Sunday's game.  

After his goal was waived off following a questionable interference call against Jonathan Toews moments earlier, Kubalik buried a power-play goal at 7:06 in the second period to tie the game at 1-1. 

It was Kubalik's 15th goal in 20 games. Among rookies, he ranks fifth in points with 39 but leads the category in goals with 26. 

RELATED: Kane cementing legacy among American-born greats

Power Play trending up

Following an 0-for-17 dry spell in six games prior to Friday, the Hawks have power-play goals in two straight. 

One of Alex DeBrincat's two goals in Friday's 2-1 overtime win over the Predators was on the man advantage in the third period to tie the game at 1-1. Kubalik kept it going in the right direction on Sunday. 

First timer

With defenseman Erik Gustafsson not joining the team on the four-game road trip for precautionary reasons ahead of Monday's trade deadline, defenseman Lucas Carlsson made his NHL debut with Chicago.

Carlsson, 22, has 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) with the Rockford IceHogs this season. 

The Swedish blueliner had three hits and blocked one shot in 14:55. 

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Central Casting: Can Blackhawks play the role of playoff team?

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USA TODAY

Central Casting: Can Blackhawks play the role of playoff team?

If the Blackhawks are going to end their postseason drought next season, they are going to have to jump over at least one of the five Central Division foes who qualified for this year’s postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee the Central will get five teams in next year’s tournament, but let’s look at each club and identify teams that could take a step back next season.

Nashville

Ever since the Predators swept the Blackhawks and lost to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final, they have continued to regress each year in their attempts to hoist the Cup.

Last year, they lost to Winnipeg in Game 7 of the second round. This postseason, Dallas ousted Nashville in the first round.

The Predators appear to be at a Cup crossroads. They need to find more scoring than just the JOFA line. Do they need to move P.K. Subban to acquire scoring depth?

They also had the worst power play in the league and 36-year-old goalie Pekka Rinne had a sub-par .905 save percentage in the playoffs.

Expect a busy offseason in the Music City as the Predators look to stay in the upper tier of the Central.

Cup contender trending: Down

Winnipeg 

Did the Jets run into a team of destiny in the Blues? Or did the opening round loss highlight some areas of concern for Winnipeg?

The Jets season in many ways was the exact opposite of the Blues. Winnipeg started strong and was just average in the second half of the season.

The Jets have seven players that will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, including Kevin Hayes. They also have six restricted free agents on their roster, which includes Patrik Laine and Jacob Trouba.

The Jets have had a rocky relationship with Trouba and are expected to trade the 25-year-old defenseman. Connor Hellebuyck’s production dropped off a bit from 2018 when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

The Jets have a great power play and three lines that can score. A couple of roster tweaks could help this young team take the next step.

Cup contender trending: Even

St. Louis

From last place in the entire league on Jan. 2 to being one of the final four teams standing in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Craig Berube pushed all the right buttons when he took over last November. The Blues commitment to defense was highlighted by finally finding what appears to be a franchise goalie in Jordan Binnington.

The Blues are strong down the middle with centers Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak.

The Blues' key players are under contract next season. So, other than finding a new anthem to replace “Gloria” the Blues could be a major roadblock in the Blackhawks climb up the Central standings.

Cup contender trending: Up

Dallas

Another first-year coach in the Central, Jim Montgomery saw his team improve dramatically, as they fell just one goal short of reaching the Western Conference Final.

The Stars have a tremendous 1-2 punch in net with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin.  

They have solid special teams with players like Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg putting up monster numbers.

They also saw young players like Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz make an impact on the scoresheet.

The Stars spent a second-round pick on Mats Zuccarello. Will the Stars have enough cap room to sign Zuccarello when he becomes a UFA this summer?

Cup contender trending: Even

Colorado

The Avalanche punched the final postseason ticket in the West and rode it all the way to Game 7 of the second round.

Luck was on the side of the Blackhawks during the draft lottery, but that wasn’t the case for Colorado. They had the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick and ended up with the fourth overall selection.

The Blackhawks won’t have to deal with Jack Hughes in an Avs sweater, but they will have to worry about blue line phenom Cale Makar for the foreseeable future.

The Avalanche had the most dangerous line in hockey for much of the season with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

They are a young, fast team with a steady netminder in Philipp Grubauer. They will see Colin Wilson become a UFA on July 1.

Colorado may end up being the elite team in the Central for years to come.

Cup contender trending: Up

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Four takeaways: Blackhawks tighten up on defense to get revenge on Stars

Four takeaways: Blackhawks tighten up on defense to get revenge on Stars

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Saturday:

1. Team defense and revenge

Two weekends ago, the Blackhawks had a prime opportunity to play themselves inside the playoff picture with games against Colorado and Dallas. They outplayed both of them, but didn't get the result.

On Saturday, they did.

The Blackhawks recorded 77 shot attempts (39 on goal) and allowed only 27 shots on goal, including just five in the third period when they were hanging onto a one-goal lead. Corey Crawford stopped all but one of them for a save percentage of .963.

It's only the 10th time this season the Blackhawks held an opponent to 27 shots or fewer in a game. And it was also the first time since Dec. 21 that the Blackhawks held an opponent to one goal or fewer, a span of 30 games. A great team road win.

2. Fourth line turns in another strong performance

Jeremy Colliton liked what the fourth line of David Kampf, Marcus Kruger and Chris Kunitz brought to the table on Thursday in a 5-4 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. He must've loved what they did two nights later.

The trio connected for the first goal of the game, which was an important one considering the Blackhawks fell behind in their last meeting. Kampf scored a goal, Kunitz had a primary assist, seven shot attempts (a season-high five on goal), two hits and a takeaway while Kruger had a shot on goal and a takeaway. It's exactly what the Blackhawks are looking for out of their fourth line.

3. Secondary scoring starting to come

The Blackhawks have been trying to roll a consistent four-line rotation all season long, but have found themselves relying heavily on their top horses because their bottom-six hasn't been as effective. But they're starting to get it.

In the past four games, here's which Blackhawks have gotten in the goal column: Artem Anisimov (2), Alex DeBrincat, Erik Gustafsson, Kampf, Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Brendan Perlini (3) and Dylan Strome.

That's eight different Blackhawks, three of which are defensemen. You'll notice Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren't on there. The Blackhawks are obviously at their best when they're producing, and now it's about putting it all together and getting contributions from everyone at the same time to see what the ceiling could be.

4. The Cat closing in on 40 goals

After going goalless in his previous three games, DeBrincat got back on the scoresheet for his 37th goal of the season. He's now three goals away from 40 on the season with 14 games left.

Only three players have reached the 40-goal mark so far this season: Alex Ovechkin (46), Leon Draisaitl (41) and Kane (40). It's not hard to envision DeBrincat joining that club, which is hard to believe he could get there in his second NHL season.

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