Chicago Blackhawks: Tonight's Dallas Stars Matchup Critical

James Maahs@Jmaz90Contributor IIIMarch 16, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23:  Alex Goligoski #33 of the Dallas Stars falls onto Richard Bachman #31, who has the puck under his body, as Andrew Brunette #15 and Jimmy Hayes #39 of the Chicago Blackhawks try to score at the United Center on February 23, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Stars defeated the Blackhawks 3-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks have to win tonight's game against the Dallas Stars: to gain two points, to prove that they deserve to be in the playoffs, and to show that they're the favorite in a potential first-round matchup. 

There's 11 games left until the Chicago Blackhawks can once again engage in some playoff hockey. That is, of course, if they make it.

The Blackhawks are looking more and more likely each day to enter the playoffs being the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

If everything holds, that means the Blackhawks will play the Dallas Stars in the first round. 

Tonight's game will be against a hungry Stars team that missed the playoffs last year by losing the last game of its season, a loss that propelled the Blackhawks into the playoffs as an eighth seed to face the Presidents'-Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks.

Safe to say that the Stars will be playing tonight's game against the Blackhawks with a chip on their shoulder.

In the last three games against the Stars, the Blackhawks have gone 1-2-0, with the last matchup coming February 23rd. It's fair to say that the Blackhawks should expect nothing less than a very physical and gritty playoff-type game.

The Blackhawks have shown their muscle this season by beating the always physical St. Louis Blues after being down by two goals. But it will take consistency and star power in order for the Hawks to make any noise in the playoffs.

The Stars/Blackhawks matchup means so much to both teams because of the possibility of this being a first-round preview. 

The Blackhawks will have to fight for each puck possession and crash the net if they want to play some real playoff hockey. 

It will also be a struggle for the Blackhawks, as captain Jonathan Toews remains out with a concussion. Time for the team leaders to step up and show the depth players how to play some gritty hockey.

Maybe a fight will break out between Adam Burish and Brandon Bollig? Maybe Corey Crawford will stand on his head and get his first shutout of the season?

Niklas Hjalmarsson will play in tonight's game, while Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto will remain out.

Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: The Blackhawks must play playoff-type hockey in these last 11 games.

Every point is crucial when the bottom-three playoff seeds in the Western Conference are so close together.