Blackhawks trounce Stars to extend Central Division lead

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Patrick Kane (left) celebrates his second-period goal with Artem Anisimov, who had four points on Saturday. (AP Photo)

DALLAS — Niklas Hjalmarsson pointed out that the Dallas Stars still have three games in hand on the Blackhawks, so a five-point lead doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. Joel Quenneville pointed out that the Stars ran the Hawks out of American Airlines Center in the last game before Christmas. And Artem Anisimov pointed out that even after a big three-game road sweep, there’s plenty of hockey left to be played.

But in their 5-1 throttling of the Stars on Saturday, the Hawks quite clearly pointed out that the road to the Western Conference final likely still goes through Chicago.

Anisimov had a shorthanded goal and three assists, Marian Hossa added another shorthanded goal, and Corey Crawford was brilliant —“as usual,” Hjalmarsson said —in a 36-save effort as the Hawks had about as big of a statement game as you can in early February. The Stars and Hawks will see each other three more times in the final two months of the season, including Thursday at the United Center.

Saturday’s win put the pre-Christmas loss — and that miserable three-game road losing streak leading into the desperately needed All-Star break —in the distant past for the Hawks, who now head home for a long-overdue four-game homestand.

“Yeah, that was a big win for us,” said Hjalmarsson, who had two assists. “It was a great trip and we’re excited to be back home in Chicago for a while now. We feel like we’ve been on the road for a month, almost. It’s going to be fun at play at home again.”

After winning a tight 2-1 affair in Colorado, and a wild and woolly 5-4 mess in Arizona, the Hawks trounced the Stars from the opening minute. Perhaps the only fault that could be found in Saturday’s effort was the lack of discipline, as the Hawks took six penalties for the second straight game. Then again, they killed off all six and scored two shorthanded goals on Saturday, after tallying one in Arizona.

“We find a way to win the games,” Anisimov said. “Three games, we find a way — three different ways to win the game.”

Thirty-four seconds into the game, and five seconds into a power play, Brent Seabrook ripped a shot past old teammates Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi for a 1-0 lead. Trevor van Riemsdyk perfectly timed a one-timer on a bouncing Artemi Panarin rebound to make it 2-0 at 16:26 of the first.

Tyler Seguin cleaned up a Jamie Benn shot that hit the post to cut the lead to 2-1 just 80 seconds later, but Toews’ tremendous move around Alex Goligoski allowed him to get a shorthanded shot on Niemi, and Hossa put in the rebound to make it 3-1 at 19:01 of the first.

The Stars turned the tide in the second, peppering Crawford with shots, but the Hawks goalie was up to the task, making 18 saves in the period. His biggest stop came on Vernon Fiddler off a Jason Demers rebound at the end of an early power play. Crawford stopped a close-range Patrick Sharp shot a few minutes later.

Then, with Hossa in the box for tripping, Anisimov beat John Klingberg and Goligoski to the puck and flicked a shot past Kari Lehtonen — who replaced Niemi to start the second period —to make it 4-1. Patrick Kane put in an Anisimov rebound later in the second to make it 5-1.

“This was a big game,” Crawford said. “It was definitely one of the bigger ones this year. We’re happy to get that one, but there’s a lot of work to do the rest of the season.”

That includes three more against the Stars, and perhaps more in the playoffs. A message was sent on Saturday, but these two division rivals are just getting started.

“They beat us handily here last time,” Quenneville said. “So we’re even.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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