DALLAS — When he was in Chicago, Patrick Sharp often talked about how the Blackhawks never got too high, and never got too low during the natural ebbs and flows of an 82-game hockey season. Winning streaks were downplayed, and losing streaks were shrugged off. That’s the kind of perspective that comes with years of success, and three Stanley Cups in six seasons.
Sharp’s new team is learning it the hard way, just as the Hawks did.
“It’s something we’ve been focusing on all season long, definitely,” Sharp said after Saturday’s morning skate, as the second-place Dallas Stars prepared to host the first-place Hawks. “We got off to a great start, and that gave us a nice little cushion. But we realize it’s a long season, and you’ve got to better every week and play your best hockey at the right time. And our season’s going to be defined by how we play down the stretch here.”
When the Stars sent the Hawks limping into the Christmas break with an emphatic 4-0 victory, they held a 13-point lead over Chicago in the Central Division. In about three weeks, it disappeared, as the Hawks went on a 12-game win streak, and the Stars lost eight of 10. Still, Dallas enters Saturday’s game just three points back, with three games in hand. And there are still three more meetings between the two teams to go.
“The season is long, and if you trust what you’re doing, there’s going to be ups and downs,” said Dallas defenseman Johnny Oduya, a two-time champ with the Hawks. “We have to learn from what’s going on. Sometimes you win games and a little bit of complacency creeps in, or you’re not as sharp at the details as you should be. You get away with it for a while, and usually it comes back and bites you. I think that’s kind of a natural process, where you need to learn how to stay focused throughout the year.”
It didn’t come right away for the Hawks, who had to lose before they learned how to win. It’s something they learned in 2008 and 2009, as they started the steady rise to dominance that Dallas hopes to replicate.
“We’ve definitely learned that,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’ve got guys in here that know that, and when we have new players come in, it’s easy it pass on those habits. I think you’re seeing that with a team like Dallas. They didn’t make the playoffs last year, and they’re eager and hungry to prove themselves.”
For a team going through it all for the first time, Sharp thinks the Stars — who have won three straight and four of five since their January stumble — have handled their first bit of adversity well.
“There’s always some frustration, but I think we managed it pretty good,” said Sharp, who’s mired in an 11-game goal drought after a hot stretch around New Year’s. “Nothing really got out of hand. Every team has to go through it at some point during the year.”