Blackhawks & Stars play tonight in possible first round preview

Friday night marks a possible first-round preview as the Blackhawks and Stars drop the puck on their final matchup during the regular season.

The two teams are currently ranked sixth and third in the conference respectively, and if those standings hold, it should make for an entertaining first round -- after all, it was Dallas's own poor effort in their game #82 that sent the Blackhawks, not the Stars, to the playoffs last spring.

Before these two teams can look at April, however, they must first finish the regular season. Dallas has taken 2 of the 3 games the teams have played so far this season.

The Stars are on a hot streak right now, and nobody is hotter on the team than their starter goalie, Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen currently is 128:32 into a shutout streak, and he's 8-0-1/1.29 GAA/.955 sv% over his past 9 starts. Lehtonen's personal shut out record is 147:32. Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan has announced that Lehtonen will get all 4 home games over the next 9 days. The Stars will be missing Sheldron Souray and Radek Dvorak, and possibly Philip Larsen. Dallas currently leads the Pacific Division by just 2 points; but in the hotly contested bubble race in the West, every single point is crucial. Phoenix sits at 81; San Jose is at 80 with a game in hand.

Carter HuttonCorey Crawford will get the start for the Blackhawks. Coach Quenneville has said he would have gotten the start even if Ray Emery wasn't sick; the team is hopeful Crawford will carry the confidence from Tuesday's game versus St. Louis into Dallas tonight. Carter Hutton was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs due to Emery's illness. Fortunately for Hutton, the IceHogs were already in Houston for games against the Aeros, so it was a short flight this morning. If Crawford has another huge game in Dallas tonight - especially against the streaking Stars - chances are good that the Blackhawks will once again ride him into the playoffs.

Jonathan Toews remains out indefinitely with continuing issues from his concussion; the team captain had hoped to be back earlier this week but has stalled in his progression. The team remains positive that Toews will be back in time for the playoffs. Niklas Hjalmarsson has recovered and will be playing tonight; Steve Montador remains out, although he has been practicing. Sami Lepisto also remains out.

The Blackhawks have had an impressive - and important - stretch lately. Although they've gone 5-4-1, they've had important, come-from-behind wins against some of the toughest goalies and teams in the NHL. It bodes well for where the Blackhawks stand at this point in the season. Although grabbing home ice for the playoffs still remains unlikely, the Blackhawks are looking good enough that it's not yet impossible. Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have all begun surging - Kane in particular, with 5 goals and 3 assists in the last 8 games.

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Blackhawks vs. Stars can be seen on CSN-Chicago at 7:30pm CDT. You can also follow the action on WGN 720 (phone app also available).