The Dallas Stars have earned a berth in the NHL playoffs and can secure the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference when they travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Friday in the penultimate game of the regular season for both teams.
The Blackhawks have been eliminated from the race for the Stanley Cup, but Dallas (42-31-7, 91 points) still has the chance to make plenty of noise.
The Stars clinched their first trip to the playoffs since 2016 and just their third in the past 11 seasons with a dominating 6-2 home win over Philadelphia on Tuesday. Alexander Radulov had two goals and two assists in the victory, while Jason Dickinson and Esa Lindell each added a goal and an assist.
Radulov's production over the past month has been a key to Dallas' late-season surge.
Tuesday extended his goal streak to four games and his points streak to six ; since being a healthy scratch for a March 5 game after being late to the morning skate, Radulov has amassed 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 14 games.
"It's a long season, and there's going to be ups and downs all the time," Radulov said after the win. "It was a tough season for us, we had some guys hurting and guys got called up and played well. If you look at it as a whole, we grinded it out, we found a way, and we deserve to be in the playoffs."
The Stars have points in five straight contests (4-0-1).
"It was important for us doing it in front of our fans," Montgomery said of clinching at home with the win. "And for us doing it on our own merit, not someone losing a point to get in. That was really important because when you get into the playoffs, you've got to be able to end series, and this is as much as you could get to replicating that."
Chicago is far from phoning it in down the stretch, with the latest example of the Blackhawks' grit a 4-3 home shootout win over St. Louis on Wednesday.
Jonathan Toews scored to set a new career-high of 35 on the season, surpassing his 2008-09 total. Meanwhile, with the primary assist on that tally, Patrick Kane tied his career-high of 106 points, set when he led the NHL in 2015-16. His third-period goal against the Blues set a new career high with 107.
Kane said he and his teammates have had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that their season will be over this weekend, and that the Blackhawks' will be sitting a home and not playing hockey when it matters the most.
"It's pretty disappointing and pretty frustrating for the second straight year not to be in the playoffs, especially when a lot of us feel like we're in our prime and able to contribute and had good seasons," Kane said. "There's obviously plays you can look back at and say you could've done more here or there and had a bigger difference on the game. It's just the way it goes."
Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward credited Kane and Toews for their leadership and continued push for the team.
"Getting to play with them is a treat every day," Ward said of the star duo. "Especially Patrick Kane, he amazes you. They preach to keep working despite our situation."
--Field Level Media
Playoff-bound Stars look to keep momentum in Chicago