Amidst a late-season bump in the road, the Dallas Stars look to keep pace in the race for the top spot in the Central Division when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
The Stars (39-20-14, 92 points) have held the division lead for much of the season, but inconsistency of late has opened the door for their rivals. The Minnesota Wild moved into first place over the weekend while the surging Colorado Avalanche have sprung into second in the division, bumping the Stars down to third. The three clubs were separated by a single point before the Wild and Avalanche each played Monday.
Dallas is coming off a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, its second setback against the club in 12 days.
"(The Canucks) were the hungrier team, and that's inexcusable at this time of the year for us," Stars coach Pete DeBoer said after the game.
Tuesday's tilt kicks off a three-game road trip for Dallas, beginning with two non-playoff opponents in the Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes before a crucial contest against the Avalanche.
"We walk into our dressing room and we've got a giant standings board right there," DeBoer said. "That should get you up. You want to hold onto first place, you want to finish as high as possible. It shouldn't take more motivation than that."
Forward Jason Robertson leads the Stars with 91 points (41 goals, 50 assists), two shy of Mike Modano's record for tops in Dallas history, set in 1993-94.
"He's a student of the game," DeBoer said. "How hard he works at the game. He's looking at analytics on his own all the time. He's staying after practice, after pregame skate, working on his own game. It's always the offensive part of the game ... but he's better defensively than I give him credit, a lot of people give him credit, too."
The Blackhawks (24-43-6, 54 points) head into the matchup having also lost to Vancouver in their most recent outing, falling 4-2 on Sunday. It was Chicago's fifth straight loss and 12th in their past 15 games (3-11-1). They've been outscored 22-6 in their current five-game skid.
Despite their struggles, they do see some positives amid a woeful season.
"It seems like besides I think the two games that were on the road, we've been pretty competitive, and most of the games have been close toward the end of the game," defenseman Seth Jones said. "I think we're starting to play a certain way and understand a certain way we have to play every night to be successful."
One bright spot has been the play of rookie Lukas Reichel. The 20-year-old forward scored for a second straight game against Vancouver, bringing his season totals to five goals and four assists in 17 games. Three of those goals have come in his past six games.
"I think he's been very explosive for us," Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. "I think he's getting more confident in that way; he's just got to figure out the certain danger zones that you can't recover from in this league. It's just too quick and strong."
--Field Level Media
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