Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks struggled through March but bounced back with a spectacular finish to set up their playoff run.
The Blackhawks are attempting to repeat that pattern and chase down the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
The newly crowned Central Division champions will try to earn a fourth straight win and a franchise-record 50th of the season Tuesday night when they visit the Dallas Stars.
The Blackhawks went 6-7-2 last March before going 6-0-1 to close the regular season, including a home-and-home sweep of archrival Detroit on the season’s final weekend. They used that momentum to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1995.
Chicago (49-22-7) also was 6-7-2 this March but won its final game of the month, 4-0 at Minnesota on Wednesday night, and followed with two more victories this weekend.
After scoring with 26 seconds left in regulation en route to a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey on Friday night, the Blackhawks beat Calgary 4-1 at home Sunday after a Detroit loss earlier in the day gave them their first division title in 17 years.
“It was always a goal of ours to win the division and we feel good about that,” forward Patrick Sharp(notes) said. “But we want to play our best hockey going into the playoffs. Lately, we’re beginning to do that.”
Antti Niemi’s(notes) 0.65 goals-against average and the play of the team’s fourth line over the past three games have helped Chicago pull within two points of West-leading San Jose with a game in hand. Tomas Kopecky(notes) has three goals and linemate Ben Eager(notes) has added four points during the win streak as Chicago has outscored opponents 10-2.
Winning four straight would give the Blackhawks 50 victories for the first time in their 84-year history. They also won 49 in 1990-91 and 1970-71 - the season in which they also set a franchise record with 107 points. Chicago is two points shy of matching that mark, also achieved in 1971-72.
A win Tuesday or a Vancouver loss to Colorado would assure the Blackhawks of finishing no worse than second in the West, but Dallas (35-30-14) has won two of three meetings this season and Mike Ribeiro(notes) has a goal in each.
Kane has nine career goals against the Stars - his most against one opponent - and Brouwer has nine points in the past seven meetings.
They’ll face a Dallas team which was eliminated from playoff contention Sunday with Colorado’s victory over San Jose.
The Stars had won two straight before falling 2-1 in St. Louis on Saturday, remaining the only team that has yet to record a three-game win streak this season.
The Stars could give Matt Climie(notes), called up from the minors Thursday, his first start of the season or allow the struggling Marty Turco(notes) to make what’s expected to be one of his final appearances with the organization. Turco is 15-5-1 with one tie and a 2.21 GAA all-time against Chicago, but he’s given up seven goals in two matchups this season.
The Blackhawks are expected to look again to Niemi, whose only start against the Stars was a 4-3 shootout win Feb. 9.