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Quenneville: Ducks ‘great test’ for Chicago as NHL’s top two teams square off

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It’s not often the Blackhawks head into a game trailing their opponent in the standings, but tonight they’ll do exactly that.

The ‘Hawks — sitting second in the Western Conference — will host the NHL’s hottest team tonight as the Ducks fly into the United Center. Anaheim sits atop the league standings with 77 points (36-8-5), six clear of the ‘Hawks, and Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville knows this is arguably the biggest challenge his club has faced all season.

“It’s a great test for us,” he said, per the Chicago Tribune. “They’re on an amazing run. Game in and game out they’re a hard team to play against and they have a lot of guys contributing.”

As you’ve probably heard, the Ducks are tearing apart the league. They’ve won 18 of their last 19 games, tied with the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens as the only teams in NHL history to win 18 of 19 in a season.

What’s more, Anaheim is coming off a 9-1 pasting of Vancouver in which it set a franchise record for goals in a game.

But while the Ducks are flying high, the ‘Hawks aren’t exactly soaring. Chicago has lost five of seven (but still collected eight of a possible 14 points) and has been lamenting its lack of finish. The team fired 48 shots on Semyon Varlamov in a 3-2 OT loss last game out, but could only manage to slide two past the Colorado ‘keeper. It marked the fourth time in the last five games the ‘Hawks finished with two goals or fewer, hardly what you’d expect from a team boasting the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

“If some of those go in, we’re maybe not talking about being in a rut because we won the last game too [against the Edmonton Oilers],” Duncan Keith said, per NHL.com. Over the last couple of games there might be games we’ve been more consistent in, but we had a lot of chances in the last game and they just didn’t go in.”

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.