DALLAS, TX - MARCH 16: Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the American Airlines Center on March 16, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHL on NBCSN: Will Blackhawks stop rising Stars?

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Dallas Stars at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET.

The Detroit Red Wings won last night. Now the Stars have to respond.

Dallas had the slimmest lead on the eighth seed prior to Detroit’s win and the Stars can reclaim it again with a victory against Chicago tonight. Beating the Blackhawks this season is a tall order, but the odds haven’t stopped Dallas lately.

How often do you see a team fully embrace the seller role in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline and still somehow make the playoffs? The Stars dealt Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, and Jaromir Jagr for picks and prospects and those that were left seemed to haven taken it as a challenge.

They’ve won five straight games, three on the road and four against teams that currently hold a playoff spot, to force their way back into the competition. With three of their top forwards now playing for other teams, 22-year-old rookie Alex Chiasson has stepped up with six goals and seven points in six career games.

All the same, a five-game winning streak isn’t exactly the type of thing that’s likely to intimidate the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re on one right now, although they’ve obviously been on far better streaks this season.

Chicago is 32-5-4 in 2013 and the only real question left is whether or not they’ll win the Presidents’ Trophy. With little else left to accomplish before the playoffs, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wants to see them fight for it.

“It’s a nice achievement, but we still want to finish first in other categories until the end of the year. That’s our motivation,” coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago after his team won the Central Division title. “Let’s keep pushing forward and look for more consistency in our game.”

Probable goaltenders: CHI – Ray Emery (15-1-0, 1.90 GAA, .924 SV%) | DAL – Richard Bachman (6-3-0, 3.18 GAA, .884 SV%)

Top scorers: CHI – Patrick Kane (20-26-46, 41 GP) | DAL – Jamie Benn (8-19-27, 34 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Chicago – Forwards: Patrick Sharp (shoulder)
Dallas – Forwards: Lane MacDermid (chest) Goaltenders: Kari Lehtonen (groin)

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…