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No cruise control for Blackhawks in 5-2 late-season win over Stars

Updated: April 15, 2013 11:13PM



With a nearly insurmountable lead over second-place Anaheim and just six games left in the season, the Blackhawks are all but assured of earning the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs. On Monday night against the Dallas Stars, there really wasn’t a whole lot to play for.

Trailing the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings by two points with less than two weeks left in the season, the Stars are assured of nothing, and after dumping most of their stars at the trade deadline, have surprisingly inserted themselves into the playoff picture with a five-game win streak. On Monday night against the Hawks, there was everything to play for.

But it was the Hawks who looked like the desperate team, pulling away in the third period for a 5-2 victory. Their sixth straight win extended their current point streak to 8-0-1. In fact, Ray Emery said the Hawks are playing better now than they were during their record-setting 24-game point streak that started the season.

And that’s what matters to the Hawks — peaking at the right time. That’s what’s driving the Hawks, who, despite their gaudy 33-5-4 record, actually are quite desperate — desperate to erase the memory of two straight first-round playoff exits.

“Guys here have gone into the playoffs before, and know the type of hockey you need to be playing when they start,” Emery said after making 16 saves behind the Hawks’ increasingly stifling defense. “You can’t just pick it up when they start. You’ve got to be just as hungry in the last couple weeks of the year as the other teams that have to scratch and claw to get in, because they’re going to continue that play in the first round.”

The win pushed the Hawks’ lead over the Ducks to a whopping 11 points, with six games left for each team. The Hawks also have a six-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the President’s Trophy as the league’s top team in the regular season.

All this, despite the continued — and baffling — struggles of the power play, which went 0-for-4 and is 0-for-21 on the current point streak, and 1-of-31 dating back to mid-March. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville threw nearly everybody on the power play in this one — 15 of 18 skaters got power play time — to snap the slump, but they still came up empty. And they still won.

The Hawks appeared to have the game in hand after goals by Jonathan Toews (his team-leading 21st off a tremendous slap-pass from Marian Hossa) and Viktor Stalberg (on a speedy end-to-end give-and-go with Michal Handzus). But Dallas’ Jamie Benn cut the lead to 2-1 late in the second period when a Patrick Kane turnover led to a 3-on-1. And Benn tied it at 2-2 just 3:07 into the third period when Handzus’ clearing attempt hit a linesman and created a Dallas scoring chance.

But the Hawks answered, and answered quickly.

Eighty-four seconds after Benn’s equalizer, Kane — who sat for five full minutes after his goal-causing turnover — threaded a nifty pass through traffic to Andrew Shaw, who rifled a shot through a Bryan Bickell screen and past Stars goaltender Richard Bachman for a 3-2 lead. Three minutes later, Hossa set up another goal, as his hustle and tap-pass allowed Niklas Hjalmarsson to unleash a blast from the high slot that beat Bachman.

Hossa — reluctantly, after trying to pass it away — scored an empty-netter with 26.9 seconds left to seal it.

The Stars needed the game. The Hawks didn’t. But the Hawks went out and got it anyway.

“It’s the heart you have,” Shaw said. “Obviously, you want to win every game you play. The feeling of winning is unbelievable. No one wants to lose.”



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