Blackhawks’ streak revisited: First half was a highlight reel
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org March 9, 2013 10:48PM
OILERS at BLACKHAWKS
The facts: 6, CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: April 11, 2013 7:06AM
The streak is over. And as Patrick Kane said last week, nobody outside of Chicago is going to remember the streak unless the Blackhawks finish the season as well as they started it. But for Hawks fans, whether you’re most impressed by the NHL-record season-opening 24-game points streak, the 30-game points streak dating to last season or the franchise-record 11-game winning streak — all of which came to a crashing halt Friday night in Denver — it was a remarkable and unforgettable stretch of dominance. Here’s a look back at the first half of the season, spotlighting the superlatives in a half-season full of them.
Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were spectacular in goal. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa were as good as ever. Take your pick of defensemen who played at a consistently elite level. But this streak belonged to Patrick Kane, who played arguably the best hockey of his career. With 12 goals and 15 assists — both team highs — Kane was the driving force behind the streak. Every time he touched the puck, it seemed like something amazing was about to happen. And it usually did.
His teammates call Brandon Saad the “man-child,” an unfortunate but appropriate nickname for a 20-year-old rookie playing well beyond his years. His numbers aren’t eye-popping — four goals and six assists — but his play consistently is.
“He’s so strong, fearless,” Toews said of his young linemate. “He goes into those corners and those tight areas where there could be two guys coming after him, and he’s bouncing them both off the puck, he’s coming out and creating scoring chances out of it. It’s pretty cool to see there’s no situation that he can’t come up with the puck.”
Just imagine if Daniel Carcillo hadn’t hurt his leg in the season-opener, and Saad never got a chance to crack the lineup.
Game of the streak
Up and down they went, scoring chance after scoring chance, big save after big save, inducing gasp after gasp from the packed house at Joe Louis Arena and the record audience watching at home. And that was just the exhilarating, exhausting, exasperating second period, in which not a single goal was scored.
The Hawks-Red Wings game on March 3 — which ended in dramatic fashion when Kane scored the game-tying goal with 2:02 to go, then won it in the shootout with a filthy slowdown, toe-tapping move — was just about as good as regular-season hockey gets. It was also a reminder of just how much these rival fan bases will miss each other when they meet just twice a year starting next season.
Best individual performance
The streak should have ended at eight. The Hawks deserved to lose on Feb. 2. The Flames deserved to win. But Emery wouldn’t allow it. The ice at the Saddledome looked tilted in the third period, during which the Flames fired a preposterous 24 shots at him.
“It was scrambly,” Emery said.
And he was spectacular, making 45 saves and stopping all three Flames in the shootout. Hossa scored with 2.3 seconds left to tie it, and Kane (of course) had the lone goal in the shootout. But this was Emery’s night. Coach Joel Quenneville still can’t believe it — he brings it up on a nearly daily basis. “It was criminal,” Quenneville said that night. “You’ve got to call the cops after that performance. We stole two points. He was spectacular. I’ve never ever been out-chanced, outplayed like that in my life.”
In a perfect world, Marcus Kruger would be playing on a scoring line somewhere, utilizing his considerable offensive skills. But the Hawks are loaded with top-line talent, and so Kruger completely reinvented himself as a penalty-killing specialist, joining forces with another offensive-minded guy, Michael Frolik, to form a fearsome special-teams tandem.
And despite spending most of the season on the fourth line, Kruger managed three goals and seven assists. And by playing responsible, reliable hockey on the fourth line, Kruger and Co. enabled Quenneville to give his top guys a few more minutes of rest a game — invaluable when playing 25 games in 48 days.
It was nice beating the Phoenix Coyotes in the season’s second game, a small measure of revenge against the team that knocked the Hawks out in the first round of the playoffs last spring. But it was particularly sweet to annihilate the Coyotes 18 days later because this time Raffi Torres — who delivered the illegal hit last April that gave Hossa a severe concussion — was back from his suspension.
Less than three minutes into the game, veteran Jamal Mayers called out Torres from the bench, hopped over the boards, and fought him at center ice. The fight clearly energized the Hawks, who proceeded to score four quick goals and steamroll the Coyotes in a most-satisfying 6-2 victory.
Best coaching decision
After San Jose’s Michael Handzus got a cheap goal on Crawford on a shot from the left circle and the Hawks fell behind 3-1 in the first period on Feb. 5, nobody would have batted an eyelash had Quenneville given Crawford the hook. But the coach stuck by his man, and Crawford shut down the Sharks the rest of the way in a 5-3 Hawks’ victory.
We’ll never know, but an early hook immediately after Emery’s superman performance in Calgary might have shaken Crawford’s confidence and changed the course of his season. Instead, Crawford just got better and better from there and is off to the best start of his young career.
So what did the Hawks learn from the streak? That they have two goaltenders capable of stealing a game. That they can close out tight games and rally in the third period. That they no longer have one elite defensive pairing in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, they have two, counting the shot-blocking, lane-clogging duo Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson. That when everybody buys into the team system — the two-way style personified by Toews and Hossa — they’re nearly unbeatable.
The streak is over. The Hawks have a one-game losing streak, just 16 off the NHL record, and 29 off the mark for longest winless streak. So the way the Hawks see it it’s time to start a new one.
“We’re very proud of the first 25 games, what we’ve accomplished this year,” Toews said Friday night. “But we know it’s just that, it’s the first 25 games. There’s a long way to go. One thing we can take is the confidence winning a lot of games gives you. We won a lot of games every which way, and we’ll just carry that with us as we go forward.”
And Hawks fans can carry with them the memories of a wild, unforgettable seven weeks.