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Stars-Blackhawks Preview

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The Chicago Blackhawks are running out of chances to catch the Dallas Stars in the Central Division, and the same goes for the Western Conference's top spot.

If they aren't careful, there will be plenty of opportunities to fall in the opposite direction.

The Blackhawks hope to remain within reach of the Stars, who will go for their fourth win in the season series Tuesday night at the United Center while continuing life without Tyler Seguin.

Chicago is mired in a 1-3-2 stretch, though it picked up points in Friday's 4-0 win at Winnipeg and Sunday's 3-2 shootout loss to Minnesota - its third straight defeat at home.

Still, the Blackhawks (42-24-7) are struggling while it seems the rest of the West contenders are making a move. Their 91 points trail Dallas (43-21-9) by four, but they also sit behind Los Angeles and St. Louis while Anaheim, San Jose and Nashville lurk close behind.

Backup Scott Darling has played well in net with Corey Crawford slow to return from an upper-body injury. Darling has a 1.64 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in three straight starts, which included his second career shutout against the Jets and a 32-save effort against the Wild.

"It's good for me to get a little momentum going," Darling said. "It's good going forward that I'll have this experience."

When asked if Crawford, who allowed nine goals in two starts before his injury, will return against Dallas, coach Joel Quenneville said, "We'll see."

Darling played in two games against Dallas this season, relieving an ineffective Crawford each time. While Crawford holds a 4.58 GAA and an .879 save percentage in four starts against the Stars, Darling allowed one goal on 25 shots in his appearances.

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Not surprisingly, the Stars won three of four meetings, giving them victories in five of the last six overall.

Dallas is 5-1-2 following a 1-5-2 stretch. The NHL's top-scoring team, though, will be without Seguin for three to four weeks after surgery to repair a small cut of his left Achilles tendon. He hopes to be back for the start of the playoffs - which the Stars could clinch a spot into Tuesday.

Seguin's 33 goals rank second on the team to Jamie Benn's 36.

Seguin suffered the injury late in Thursday's 4-3 win over Tampa Bay, the same game former Chicago forward Patrick Sharp returned from a six-game absence because of a lower-body injury.

Equally concerning to the injury issues had been the defensive end of the ice after the Stars surrendered five goals in each of their previous two games - the sixth time they had allowed at least that many in 13 contests.

However, Kari Lehtonen has played well in net the last two, leading some to believe he has earned the postseason starting job over Antti Niemi.

Lehtonen improved to 21-9-2 by making 27 saves in Saturday's 3-0 win over the New York Islanders for his second shutout. He has started seven of the last eight games, winning five.

''I'm not establishing anybody as No. 1,'' coach Lindy Ruff said. ''But I like the way (Lehtonen's) playing, and the reason he has been playing is because his game has been better than Antti's.''

Dallas will face a Chicago power play that ranks in the top five of the league with a 22.3 percentage but is in an 0-for-17 slump over the last five.