DALLAS - In an open audition for a possible backup gig next season, Matt Climie's play was a mixed bag.
Against one of the top teams in the NHL, Climie rebounded solidly after giving up a goal on the very first shot that he saw before eventually wearing down and becoming a bit erratic in a 5-2 Dallas loss to the second-best team in the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.
With the Stars eliminated from playoff contention, the team brought up Climie from their AHL affiliate in order to give him a chance to show the organization if he's got what it takes to be a legitimate No. 2 goalie next year. Playing his first NHL game of the year, and fourth of his career, Climie finished with 33 saves in the Stars' second straight defeat.
"Definitely there were some ups and downs during the game," he said. "At times I felt good, confident. At other times I think I backed up in my net a little too much and wasn't really as aggressive as I usually play. Overall, I think it's just a good experience to get an NHL game in this year, and kind of use it and learn from it when I go back to Texas, and hopefully have a long playoff run."
With Kari Lehtonen penned in to be the top netminder next year, and veteran Marty Turco potentially departing, the door is open for Climie to snag a roster spot. He's appeared in 42 games with the Texas Stars this season, going 21-16-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
"Obviously it's tough to give up the first goal on the first shot, and it's always tough to bounce back, but I thought I did a good job of staying with it and staying positive and being aggressive and not really getting down on myself," Climie said. "I felt I recovered after that first goal and kept battling."
After surrendering that early goal to Marian Hossa, Climie calmed down in an opening period in which the Stars were outshot by a 15-5 margin. The Blackhawks then turned it on in the third period, scoring twice to stretch their 3-1 second intermission lead while peppering the 27-year-old goalie with 11 more shots.
"They have some of the best young forwards in the National Hockey League, and they have a number of good forwards who can shoot the puck, so I knew it was going to be a challenge coming in," Climie said. "I was prepared for that, and maybe I gave them a little too much respect. At the same time, I've got to hold my own, and give the team a chance to win."
Center Brad Richards notched an assist on Neal's third-period goal, tying his career high of 91 points set while he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2005-06. But that was of little importance to Richards, who was clearly frustrated with his team's performance.
"We could have gave (Climie) a little bit more help," Richards said. "It's a good team, and it was a good challenge for him. I'm sure he felt pretty excited about that, but that's the disappointing thing when you get a guy like him in net, and not everybody is on board. It's disappointing. No matter what, we're professionals and we have to come out with a lot better effort next game."
Colin Fraser scored twice, Jonathan Toews had a goal and assist, and Patrick Kane also scored for the Central Division champion Blackhawks, who set a franchise mark with their 50th win of the year.
Hossa added an assist, and Antti Niemi made 26 saves in Chicago's fourth straight win.
"They outbattled us and outcompeted us," Richards said. "They're going to get shots. They're defense is so good spreading out and getting shots through. It makes it tough. They're a fast team, and they get the puck. If you're going to come out flat like we did, it's going to be tough."
With a 3-1 lead after two periods, Chicago iced it when Fraser scored his second of the game, fourth of the season, and third against the Stars this year, just 2 1/2 minutes into the final stanza.
Kane made it 5-1 with his 30th of the year midway through the third before Neal's 27th cut the deficit to 5-2 with 7:15 left in regulation.
Richards whipped a pass from the right corner to the front of the net, where Neal neatly tapped it home.
"We talked at the end of the first period and said that's not good enough," coach Marc Crawford said. "You have a responsibility to first of all the fans, and a responsibility to the Stars and to yourselves to make sure you're professional. I was pleased that we were better in the second. In the third period, we had a couple of plays where we just stood still and those are the things you want to stay away from. Our efforts at least improved. They played a strong game…that's a good club. We looked like a club that had been eliminated from the playoffs."
Up by two after the first 20 minutes, the Blackhawks made it 3-0 with their league-leading 12th shorthanded goal of the year 5:58 into the second when Toews notched his 24th of the season. Hossa was able to corral a loose puck in the neutral zone along the right boards before skating into the Dallas zone with Toews. He then fed the Chicago captain in the slot, and Toews promptly wristed the puck past Climie.
Dallas broke through 64 seconds later when Ott recorded his 20th of the year while the Stars were on the power play. Standing in the slot, the agitator deftly used his backhand to re-direct Stephane Robidas slick feed from the top of the left circle to make it 3-1.
The tally set a new career-high for Ott.
The Blackhawks struck first just 36 seconds into the game when Hossa scored his 24th of the year in follow-the-bouncing-puck fashion. Toews' backhand feed went off Hossa's leg, then Dallas defenseman Nicklas Grossman's shin before Hossa batted it out of mid-air to get it past Climie.
Chicago stretched its lead to 2-0 when Fraser scored with just 32 seconds left in the first period. Cruising towards the slot from the right circle, Fraser was able to deflect Brent Seabrook's shot from the right point.
The Stars play their final home game of the season on Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks (7:30, FSSW) before closing out the year Saturday in Minnesota against the Wild.
-- Besides Morrow, the Stars also scratched right wing Kyrstofer Barch (calf laceration), defensemen Jeff Woywitka and Philip Larsen, and goalie Marty Turco.
-- Center Mike Modano played in his 1,457th career NHL game, tying Glen Wesley for 18th on the all-time games played list.
-- The Stars wore their road white jerseys, with the Blackhawks donning their alternate black sweaters.
-- United States Gold-medal winning goalie Jim Craig dropped the puck in a pregame ceremonial face off between Modano and Kane. Craig, who backstopped the U.S. to gold in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, was in town to raise awareness for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, a condition that caused his father's death.
-- Ott eclipsed his previous career-high of 19 goals set last season.
-- The Stars didn't get whistled for their first penalty until over 6 minutes remained in the second period when Karlis Skrastins was called for holding. Modano received the only other Stars penalty in the game.
-- Richards is now two points shy from tying Modano's record for most productive season by a Dallas Star.
-- Richards extended his assists streak to six games, a new season high.
-- The Stars finished the season series with Chicago with a 2-1-1 mark.
-- Dallas dropped to 18-5-2 in its last 25 home games against Chicago.
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