Posted by: Mike Cornelius | March 3, 2013

Chicago’s Record Run Rolls Through Hockeytown

For nearly fifty-eight minutes at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon it looked like the Chicago Blackhawks were finally going to taste outright defeat for the first time this season. The Blackhawks raised the Stanley Cup at the end of the 2009-10 NHL season, but they’ve been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years. This year, to the delight of the fans, the Blackhawks are rewriting both team and league record books.

When the lockout ended and the shortened 48-game season got underway on January 19th, Chicago traveled to Los Angeles and spoiled the Kings’ celebration of their 2012 Stanley Cup championship by winning the two teams’ opening game 5-2. Just eight days later the Blackhawks set a new team mark for the best start to a season by pushing their record to 6-0-0 with a 2-1 overtime victory before a jubilant home crowd at the United Center. The season was one month old in mid-February when Chicago tied the record set by the Anaheim Ducks in 2006 by earning points in each of their first sixteen contests. Three nights later they skated past San Jose to set a new mark, and since then Chicago has just kept right on going. When they took the ice in Detroit on Sunday they did so with a record of 18-0-3, having earned points in each of their first twenty-one games.

Chicago has made NHL history by being dominant on both ends of the ice. With proven offensive weapons like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and the veteran Marian Hossa, it’s no surprise that the Blackhawks are scoring goals. Only three teams have put the puck in the net more times than Chicago. The surprise has come at the other end of the hockey rink. As the season approaches its halfway point, only the Boston Bruins have allowed fewer goals than the Blackhawks.

During the lockout Chicago fans spent their idle time speculating on which veteran goaltender general manager Stan Bowman would trade for in order to shore up what was perceived as a major weakness. Starter Corey Crawford was coming off an unimpressive second season that ended with a discouraging performance in net against Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs. Backup Ray Emery has spent almost as much time in the minors as in the NHL since being drafted in 2001. To everyone’s surprise Bowman stood pat, and now fans are glad that he did. Coming into Sunday’s game Crawford’s record was 9-0-3, and his goals against average was a stellar 1.46. Emery’s record was 9-0-0 with a fine GAA of 2.02. That stellar netminding combined with the Blackhawks expected offensive capability gave the team a +28 goal differential, far ahead of the next-best +16 of Boston and Anaheim.

Still no one expects Chicago to go the entire season without a regulation loss, and 20,066 fans in Detroit believed that their Red Wings could stop the streak. In the early going those fans were cheering mostly for Detroit’s goalie, Jimmy Howard. With the game being broadcast to a national television audience, veteran hockey announcer Mike Emrick was calling out shot after shot by the Blackhawks, and stop after stop by Howard. In a scoreless first period in which Chicago outshot Detroit 9-3, the Red Wings went more than eleven minutes without putting the puck on net.

Chicago continued as the aggressor after the first intermission, highlighted by ninety seconds of continuous puck movement and total domination in the Detroit end six minutes into the period. Although the teams were at full strength a casual viewer might well have thought that the Blackhawks had a two-man advantage. Howard withstood the barrage, and when Detroit finally managed to clear the zone the crowd responded with a roaring standing ovation. That seemed to finally energize the Red Wings, who at last got their skates going and began to carry the attack to Crawford and the Blackhawks.

Early in the third period, with the game still scoreless, a loose puck rolled past the Chicago end line to the right of Crawford. Detroit’s Patrick Eaves got to it first, and started to skate behind the net. Looking over his shoulder as he guarded the net, Crawford saw Eaves go past and assumed he would carry the puck around to the other side of the goal. But even as the Chicago goalie began to slide across the goal mouth to block that move, Eaves left the puck for Joakim Andersson who was coming from the other direction. Andersson took the puck back the way it had come, flicked a quick pass to Tomas Tartar who was barreling in from the point, and Tartar buried it in the back of the goal before Crawford could recover.

Detroit clung to its 1-0 lead as the minutes of the final period wound down. In goal both Howard and Crawford were magnificent, and as the cheers of the Detroit fans grew ever louder one could start to believe that Chicago’s remarkable streak was about to end. Yet for all of the skill that goes into any record-shattering performance by either an individual or a team, in the end some measure of luck always plays a role. With barely more than two and one-half minutes remaining, Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson went to clear the puck out of the Red Wings zone. He was skating by himself along the side boards, under no pressure and merely needing to loft the puck down the ice. Instead he inexplicably and inexcusably lofted it over the crowd and out of play, for an automatic delay of game penalty.

Given new life with the eleventh hour man advantage the Blackhawks wasted no time. Just thirty seconds into the power play a rebound off Howard came to the stick of Chicago’s Viktor Stalberg. He slid the puck across to Kane, and Chicago’s leading scorer knotted the game with a deft one-timer. When the horn sounded two minutes later and the game headed to overtime, both teams were guaranteed a point and Chicago’s streak was alive. Not content with merely adding to their record, the Blackhawks went on to notch yet another victory. After a scoreless five-minute overtime, Kane again did the honors by being the only skater on either team to beat the opposing goalie in a shootout.

Through twenty-two games, nearly one-half of the truncated NHL schedule, the Blackhawks have earned at least a point in every contest, erasing the Ducks old mark for success at the start of a season. Going back to last year, Chicago has now earned a point in twenty-eight straight contests. As remarkable as that is, even more stunning is the fact that doing so merely ties the team for the second longest streak in NHL history. They’ve now matched Montreal’s multi-season run in 1977-78, but are still seven games short of the incredible thirty-five straight games in which the 1979 Philadelphia Flyers earned a point. Those Flyers wound up going to the Stanley Cup finals. Whether or not Chicago is able to set yet another record, the Blackhawks and their fans will gladly chase that legacy.

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Responses

  1. I remember that Flyers team. Didn’t like ’em, but respected them. Stunning season so far by the Blackhawks. We’ll see soon enough if they can carry this momentum into the playoffs.
    Nice post,
    Bill

    • I didn’t care much for the Flyers of that era either, though you are correct that one had to respect them. Thanks as always for reading!
      Mike


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