Dallas continues to own Chicago, which is losing playoff ground quickly

Hot and not

ElliottBrian Elliott, St. Louis Blues
Elliott stopped all 37 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. It was the second straight shutout for Elliott, who is 9-1-1 in his past 11 starts and has a .946 save percentage in that span.

DarlingScott Darling, Chicago Blackhawks
Darling allowed four goals on 15 shots and was pulled after the first period of what ended up being a 6-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. He now has just one win in six appearances in March.

Why are the Stars and Blackhawks headed in opposite directions?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: I know you're going to accuse me of having a little Stockholm Syndrome here given that I spent time in Dallas recently, but you have to be impressed with the roll the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars are on. Especially given some key injuries, including the loss of Tyler Seguin for the balance of the regular season with a partially cut Achilles tendon. Dallas clinched a playoff berth Tuesday with a 6-2 crushing of the wobbling Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Yes, the Blackhawks are without goaltender Corey Crawford due to an upper-body injury, but they've looked out of sorts for the better part of a month (two wins in their past nine outings), while the Stars now have four wins over Chicago this season and seem to have galvanized themselves in the face of a spate of injuries. The Stars are 6-1-2 in their past nine and have won three straight to maintain their slim lead in the division. That's crucial, at least on paper, to earning an easier ticket to the second round of the playoffs. Has the Stars' impressive play of late changed your feelings on a potential playoff run? And what do you make of the Blackhawks ongoing struggles to get their act together down the stretch?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: The Stars love scoring goals against the Blackhawks, that is for sure. No question you have to be impressed by how they've responded to the loss of Seguin, kind of like the Pittsburgh Penguins' current run without Evgeni Malkin. Do I feel any better about the Stars' goaltending, though? Only in that I know Antti Niemi has proved in the past he can catch lightning in a bottle for a stretch. So, there's that. Playing better defensively in front of Niemi (and Kari Lehtonen) is paramount, too. And also note that the St. Louis Blues won last night -- 1-0 over the San Jose Sharks -- and are now four points ahead of third-place Chicago in the Central. The nobody-talks-about-them Blues are just two points back of Dallas and have gone 8-2-0 in their past 10 games. The Blackhawks have eight games left to climb out of that third-place hole, from which they would start the playoffs on the road. Or, maybe they don't care? They seem to win Stanley Cups no matter what where they finish in the standings.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: Forget trying to climb out of third place, Chicago needs to be careful here not to slip into a wild-card spot. The Nashville Predators are playing well lately, and you can't count them out of moving into third place in the Central. If that happens, and the Blackhawks slip into that top wild-card spot, now you're talking about a potential first-round matchup between the Hawks and Los Angeles Kings. That would be absolutely crazy, a Western Conference final-type series taking place in the first round and a potential Cup winner being sent home early. Crawford's injury is a reminder of just how much the Blackhawks have depended on him this season, more so than in the past. He's had his best regular season and has completely quieted critics who didn't like that big contract given to him in 2013. Now, Chicago needs him back in net to making sure this recent slide doesn't become a disaster.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: Dallas fans already curse me for my comments earlier this season about the Stars, and I'm sure I'll continue to be loathed for saying Dallas won't win a Stanley Cup (even though my comments were focused more on Seguin). I have to admit, however, that the Stars have been fantastic this season, and they are rolling even without Seguin. Dallas has eight games remaining in the regular season and faces the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. Currently, Dallas would face the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs, and I believe Minnesota could pull off an upset against the Stars. As for the Blackhawks, they will be just fine despite their recent skid. I hate to use the term "flip the switch," but Chicago will do just that when needed.

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