Photo: The Associated Press

It’s easy to forget about Dallas, mainly since the Blackhawks haven’t seen them since splitting a home-and-home with them to open the season in October. But also because in terms of the standings, the Stars haven’t been a factor. They’ve been cruising around in bubble-team land for most of the year, currently hovering a game back of the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

Then one remembers who tends goal for them, and you get that knot in your stomach. Kari Lehtonen, who fought off 37 shots in his team’s winning effort against Chicago to start the year, has always been a serious pain in the ass to get a puck behind. Going back to last season, when Chicago managed to drop 3 games to Dallas, the Blackhawks did a fine job of humiliating themselves twice on the visitor’s ice — the first by blowing a 3-0 lead and managing to lose 4-3 in a shootout, the second by getting shut out 5-0 while Lehtonen barely broke a sweat at the other end of the rink.

No matter where they sit in the standings, the Stars always give the ‘Hawks trouble. Tonight should be no different.

The entire season has been more or less uneventful for Dallas, which is much the same as it was last season, come to think of it. They are 30-26-4 on the year, going 5-5-2 so far in February, and are at or near the middle of the pack in goals, goals against, power play tallies and penalty killing. Their best stretch of the season was back in October, when they went 8-3-0. But they balanced that out by going 4-6-1 in January. Assistant Captain Steve Ott is fifth in the league in hits, but apart from that the Stars have not a single player in the top 10 of any offensive or defensive category. They are the proverbial cheese sandwich of hockey teams.

The most news the Stars are making these days is in the trade deadline speculation. The team has quietly confirmed that they have received offers for both Ott as well as Mike Ribeiro, and additionally that the right deal could tempt the team to send either one of them packing. As of this writing, however, both are scheduled to be on the ice tonight.

Speaking of being on the ice, or more accurately not on the ice, former Blackhawk Jake Dowell was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, and will not be in uniform for the Stars tonight. Rumors were being tossed around that another former Blackhawk, rough-and-tumble winger Adam Burish, might be coveted by the ‘Hawks and may be putting on the Indian Head sweater before long. Alas, no such trade has materialized to date, and we will see Burish mixing it up for the visitors this evening. He gives up 8 inches and more than 75 lbs. to John Scott; something tells me that he’d rather have a go with Jamal Mayers if he’s dropping the gloves.

On the Blackhawks’ end of things, we must endure another game without our beloved Captain Jonathan Toews, as it was announced that he would not play again on Thursday. Rumors were flying fast and furious about the nature of his injury, the fear being that Tazer has suffered a “c-word.” The original source on that rumor is known to be full of shit most of the time, however when asked point blank whether Toews’ injury was a concussion by Sun-Times reporter Adam Jahns, this was Head Coach Joel Quenneville’s reply:

It’s upper-body, we’ll leave it at that.

Draw your own conclusions.

Also out of the lineup for tonight is defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, again. He has skated for 5 straight days in practice, but is apparently still not 100%. So with those two out, we should be expecting much the same lineup as we saw in the Detroit game. Q’s superstitious like that. EDIT: Hjammer’s status was changed after today’s morning skate, details below.

Unlike the previous 3 games in the Blackhawks’ blooming win streak, when our 4 top forwards lit up the scoreboard, we saw the grit and grind hard work of youngsters Marcus Kruger and Jimmy Hayes pay off with the tallies that did in the Red Wings. Kruger now has 7 goals on the year, many of his most recent ones coming from planting himself in front of the net and bashing home rebounds. Hayes, in his 16 games with the big club this year, has 5 goals of his own, and is showing why he is likely to be a potent and punishing force on this team down the road. It is this kind of secondary scoring that the Blackhawks will need from all of their forward lines while Captain Serious is on the mend.

Careful with the post-goal celebrations though, eh Jimbo? When you put Freddy in a headlock I thought you were going to tear his melon right off.

Defensively, Coach Q seems to have settled on his two top pairings at even strength, and they are moderately surprising. Rookie Nick Leddy (I need reminding sometimes that he is, in fact, still a rookie!) has been playing solid hockey opposite Brent Seabrook, who complements his playing style nicely. But for the partner for Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Q is going with another rookie, 9-NHL-games-and-counting, 21-year-old Dylan Olsen. He had a flat plus-minus rating against Detroit, but was credited with 3 shots on goal, the most from him since joining the Blackhawks from Rockford. Olsen continues to average more than 20 minutes per night, and has not looked out of place in either zone. I hope that QStache gives him this kind of opportunity for as long as he continues to earn it. So far, so good.

Administrative nonsense: Dowell is out for Dallas, as mentioned; so is Stars’ Captain Brenden Morrow, and the high-scoring Jamie Benn has missed the last 3 games with a knee injury. He is officially day-to-day, no word on his status for tonight as of this writing. On the Blackhawks, Toews and Hjalmarsson are out, EDIT: After the morning skate today, Coach Q said count Niklas Hjalmarsson IN for tonight; and there is no change to Steve Montador’s condition — he is still on injured reserve. Lehtonen will start between the pipes for Dallas; EDIT: Word from the Stars’ camp on Thursday morning was that youngster Richard Bachman would start for Dallas; Corey Crawford can extend his winning streak to 5 games when he guards the crease for Chicago tonight.

It’s a 7:30pm start tonight, and the game will be telecast on Comcast SportsNet in Chicagoland. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; XM listeners should tune in to channel 204; and Sirius Premiere customers can find the game on channel 218.

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