Stars-Blackhawks Preview

The Associated Press

Rookie Alex Chiasson is a major reason why the Dallas Stars are making an unexpected push for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Their reward would likely be a first-round series with the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks.

Dallas seeks a sixth consecutive victory Monday night when it visits Chicago, which will be playing its third game in four days after winning its fourth straight.

Leading up to the trade deadline, the Stars traded Derek Roy, longtime captain Brenden Morrow and then-leading scorer Jaromir Jagr as they appeared to be letting go of their playoff hopes.

Chiasson has shined, though, recording six goals and an assist during a season-best five-game winning streak that has Dallas (21-17-3) battling Detroit, Columbus and Phoenix for the eighth seed.

The only game in which Chiasson hasn't recorded a point was his NHL debut, a 5-3 loss to Anaheim on April 3. He scored a power-play goal in the first period Saturday to help the Stars beat San Jose 2-1.

"This is incredible,'' Chiasson said. ''I try not to pay attention to the stats, I just concentrate on my game. This is great for us. We're right there right now. The only thing that matters are the guys that believe in here.''

Dallas' streak has continued despite goaltender Kari Lehtonen suffering a lower-body injury during a 5-1 win over Los Angeles on Tuesday. Richard Bachman has filled in nicely, stopping 79 of 82 shots since coming on in relief in that contest.

"At the trade deadline we had two choices," Bachman told the team's official website. "One was to just give in and go through the motions. Or we could prove people wrong."

Bachman made 31 saves Saturday, but coach Glen Gulutzan said Lehtonen would start Monday if he's healthy enough.

"You get your confidence up when you play more and more and you get a little better feel for the game and the stuff that happens out there," Bachman said.

Dallas hasn't had much success against Chicago this season. It blew a two-goal lead and fell 3-2 on Marian Hossa's overtime goal Jan. 24, and Hossa and Jonathan Toews each scored twice in an 8-1 rout March 16.

The Blackhawks, who clinched the Central Division with a 3-2 shootout win over Detroit on Friday, moved closer to securing the top seed in the West with a 2-0 victory at St. Louis on Sunday.

Hossa, who has five goals in the last four meetings with the Stars, had a short-handed tally for Chicago (32-5-4), which has outscored its last seven opponents 21-11 while going 6-0-1.

The Blackhawks have allowed a league-low 81 non-shootout goals, getting stellar performances from Ray Emery (1.90) and Corey Crawford (1.92) as both rank among the NHL leaders in GAA.

Crawford made 30 saves for his third shutout Sunday, while Emery has posted shutouts in three of his last five starts.

"Our goalies have been doing whatever they can to keep us winning games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "When we consider who is in net, both guys deserve strong consideration. We'll see (who starts Monday)."

Dave Bolland returned Sunday after missing four games, but Patrick Sharp sat out for the 15th time in 17 contests due to an upper-body injury. His status for Monday is uncertain.

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