Only one letter separates “millstone” from “milestone.” After sitting on 799 career NHL victories through three straight Dallas Stars losses, coach Ken Hitchcock could be forgiven for wondering whether the elusive 800th win had become more the former than the latter.
If Hitchcock had any doubts, he kept them to himself. Knowing the coach, he was focused solely on ending the Stars’ three-game skid and picking up two huge points against the division-rival Chicago Blackhawks. His 800th career win was likely an afterthought.
The Stars delivered no.800 in style, blanking the visiting Blackhawks 4-0 in front of a sellout crowd at the American Airlines Center Thursday night. Ben Bishop earned his third shutout of the season and 22nd of his career while improving to 3-0-0 against the Hawks in 2017-18. At the other end of the ice, Tyler Seguin scored two goals, notching his eighth multi-point game of the season.
A well-deserved honor for one of the greats. Congrats, coach! pic.twitter.com/FmGPMV5Rz9
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) December 22, 2017
The regulation win moved the Stars two points ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings, good for the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They improved to 19-14-3 on the season and trail Central Division front-runners Nashville, Winnipeg and St. Louis by five points.
After the win, the team presented Hitchcock with the game puck and Stars captain Jamie Benn gave a short speech. While the gesture was undoubtedly appreciated by the veteran bench boss, well-wishes from the opposing coach carried the most weight.
“Congratulations from Joel [Quenneville] means more than anything. We came in [the league] together and we’ve had so much mutual respect for each other. We helped each other along the way when we were both in the down-and-outs. Coming from him it means more than the number.” — Ken Hitchcock, 12/21/17
Hitchcock joins Quenneville and Scotty Bowman as the only coaches in the 100-year history of the NHL to reach the 800-victory plateau. Little imagination is required to see Hitch and “Coach Q,” post-retirement, joining Bowman in another ultra-exclusive club. Hint: it’s located in Toronto.
A Hard-Fought 4-0 Win
For at least the first 30 minutes, Thursday’s contest was much closer than the final score suggests.
“I didn’t think we had a handle on the game at the start,” said Hitchcock. “It’s two teams that play a different style and I thought they had a bead into us at the start. Then, we scored our first goal, our game started to control them for a little while.”
Jamie Benn put the Stars on the board late in the first period, a scant three seconds after Blackhawks forward Tommy Wingels’ tripping penalty expired.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) December 22, 2017
The home team broke open a close game with two goals in the first six minutes of the middle frame. Antoine Roussel, whose wife gave birth to a daughter, Raphaelle, on December 20, redirected a point shot from Dan Hamhuis at 1:07 to give the Stars a two-goal lead. Less than five minutes later, Seguin backhanded the biscuit past Corey Crawford for a power play goal. Those goals gave the Stars some much-needed breathing room against a dangerous visitor.
“…It’s funny, when you play Chicago you’re always on edge,” said Hitchcock. “You’re not really in control of anything because of their speed and skill off the rush.”
Seguin added an insurance goal at 16:14 of the second period, finishing a play created by the hard work of linemate Devin Shore. The sniper had a handful of chances over the final 24 minutes to complete the hat trick, but Crawford shut the door each time. Thus, the Stars were forced to settle for the “exacta” of a milestone victory and shutout, rather than a trifecta.
A few parting thoughts on Thursday’s win:
- Bishop was quite good…and aided by a little well-timed luck. That doesn’t detract from his game; you’ve got to be both good and lucky to succeed in the NHL. Earlier this season, Bishop was good, but unlucky. These things have a way of evening out, and Thursday was a prime example.
- The Stars netminder was aided by his teammates, who blocked 29 shots. Hamhuis led the black-and-blue brigade with five blocks, followed by Greg Pateryn, Esa Lindell and Stephen Johns, with four apiece.
- Hamhuis and Pateryn both had great nights. Besides combining to block nine shots, the former had two assists, while the latter contributed one helper and led the Stars with eight shot attempts. The duo has rapidly evolved into the Stars’ top shutdown defense pair.
- Blackhawks fans, the Stars see you: Both Roussel and Bishop mentioned the visiting fans in their post-game remarks, and were quite happy to deposit a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. It’s clear that the loud (and Stars fans would say, obnoxious) Blackhawks fans at the AAC, however unintentionally, provide motivation for the home team.
Hitch gets the last word:
“This was a hard game, mentally and physically hard. Both teams knew what was at stake. Both teams wanted to get in the 40’s. Playing in these games, for our guys, is good for us. We’ve got another unbelievably hard game coming in two days and it’s going to be just as hard or harder. Playing in these games is giving us the experience but we’ve been playing at this level for now almost a month. Getting rewarded is a bigger help and rewarded for good play is helping us. It’s allowing our younger guys to grow into the group at a quicker rate.”