Blackhawks take 6-game point streak into Stars' visit

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will try to pad their lead atop the Central Division and Western Conference standings when they host the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.

With nine games to go in the season, Chicago (47-20-6) already has secured its fourth consecutive 100-point season. The Blackhawks hold a six-point lead in the division over the Minnesota Wild, who have one game in hand.

A tremendous performance over the past six weeks vaulted the Blackhawks into the top position. Chicago is 17-3-1 in its past 21 contests and will try to extend its point streak to seven games Thursday against Dallas (29-33-10).

Despite the Blackhawks' recent success, coach Joel Quenneville and many of his players still have found reasons to nitpick. Chicago fell behind in each of its past two games against the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks, forcing the Blackhawks to stage furious third-period rallies in order to salvage points.

Chicago has scored eight goals in the third period of its past two games. After netting a season-high five goals in the third period against the Avalanche, the Blackhawks had three late goals against the Canucks to erase a 4-1 deficit and force overtime.

"I think the last two games, we weren't ready to play from the first minute," Chicago left winger Richard Panik said after Monday's game. "That's not how we want to play. Hopefully, we'll figure it out and play a 60-minute game."

That could be bad news for the Stars, who have endured a disappointing season filled with injuries and inconsistency. Dallas is coming off a 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks but has lost four of its past six games. The Stars scored more than two goals in only one of those six contests.

Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped all 30 shots he saw Monday night to earn the 36th shutout of his career. He likely will draw the assignment in net against the Blackhawks.

Lehtonen is 18-22-6 with a 2.89 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage this season. Backup netminder Antti Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup ring with the Blackhawks in 2010, is 11-11-4 with a 3.35 GAA and a .892 save percentage.

"It's been a tough year," Lehtonen said after Monday's win, "so after a game like this, it feels especially good. Just the way we played the whole 60 minutes. Guys were blocking shots and getting all the rebounds. They were making simple plays, not turning the puck over like we've had in the past, so that was nice."

Chicago likely will turn to Corey Crawford in net. Crawford is coming off a rare letdown performance in which he allowed four goals on 10 shots to the Canucks before he was replaced in the third period. On the season, Crawford is 29-15-3 with a 2.54 GAA and a .919 save percentage.

Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews will try to increase his point streak to seven consecutive games Thursday night. Toews has three goals and three assists in the past six games, increasing his season totals to 20 goals and 34 assists.

Panik has goals in each of the past two games. Defenseman Brent Seabrook has an assist in each of his past three games.

For the Stars, center Jason Spezza is questionable to play because of a back injury. Spezza is tied for third on the team with 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) in 59 games.

Chicago is 4-0-0 against Dallas this season. Two of the victories came by a one-goal margin, while the other two were decided by two-goal margins.
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