Center again this season, it will have to be in the playoffs – and even then might be too soon.
Chicago proved once again their dominance of Calgary -- at least in the Madhouse on Madison. A crowd of 21,192 was on hand to witness the 4-2 win, extending the drought that began on March 16, 2008.
That's a span of eight regular-season games -- and 11 counting the 2008-09 divisional round -- but the even bigger story was Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who won his 600th game. Captain Jonathan Toews gave the puck to his coach in the locker room.
"I went in there and (Toews) gave me the puck and I told them that all it means is I'm getting old," said Quenneville, who has coached three teams and has a career mark of 600-364-150 over 14 seasons. "They all feel good. There's nothing better than winning. I've been on some great teams and with some great organizations and some great players and coaches. I'm fortunate in a lot of ways that I'm in a great spot right here. I'm very content and I've got a nice team to work with."
This was Quenneville's 1,114th game, making him the second-fastest coach to reach the 600-win mark – behind only Blackhawks Senior Advisor Scotty Bowman, who did it in 1,002 games with five separate organizations.
As for the game, the Hawks controlled the first two periods before taking six penalties in the third period and allowing a pair of power-play goals that made the final score a poor reflection of the game, which in large part Chicago controlled.
Steve Montador, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa each scored goals for Chicago (21-8-4) – which won for the fifth straight game and upped its record to 7-0-1 in the month of December. The Hawks also took sole possession of the top spot in the League from the Minnesota Wild with 46 points.
Hossa and Patrick Sharp also extended point streaks as Hossa's goal pushed his points streak to five games, and Sharp's assist on Hossa's goal in the third extended his streak to a career-best nine games – which is also the longest in the NHL this season.
It was Hjalmarsson's first goal of the season and the League's leader in blocked shots got in the way of three more on the defensive end to earn the first star of the game honors.
"I had a couple good shots, but sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't," Hjalmarsson said. "Sometimes you have luck on your side."
In this case, the Hawks enjoyed some luck but drew a lot of confidence from this current win streak. Chicago built a 3-0 lead after two periods and extended it to 4-1 in the third before Curtis Glencross scored the game's final goal on a power play to make it 4-2 with just 3:35 left to play.
Olli Jokinen scored Calgary's other goal, also in the third on a power-play, but both came too late to make a difference. Chicago's Ray Emery started in net for the fifth straight game – all victories – and saved 22 shots after coming into the game with a 3-1-1 record in five appearances against Calgary, along with a sterling 1.19 goals-against average versus the Flames (14-15-4).
Miikka Kiprusoff took the loss for Calgary, which hasn't won in four straight. The Flames also got beaten in most phases of this game–finishing with just 24 shots and taking nine penalties, including a five-minute major and game misconduct by Rene Bourque near the end of the first period for hitting Brent Seabrook into the boards from behind.
Seabrook left the game with an undisclosed upper-body injury and didn't return. The Hawks held a 1-0 lead by that point thanks to another blue-collar effort by the fourth forward line that resulted in Montador's fifth goal of the season 9:23 into the game.
It was the second straight game that Chicago got on the board first thanks to its checking line. In Friday's win against the Anaheim Ducks, it was Jamal Mayers that wound up scoring. This time Mayers picked up the primary assist after getting the puck from Viktor Stalberg and zipping a cross-ice pass to Montador – who was left uncovered in the high slot.
Montador settled the puck and ripped a shot past a screened Kiprusoff for his first goal in 14 games. Chicago controlled the action for most of the first period, outshooting Calgary 9-3 and winning the possession battle.
"I thought our puck-possession game has gotten better as we've gone along here," Quenneville said. "I still say we've got to be improving in certain parts of our game. I don't think we should be satisfied with where we're at. I like the makeup of our lines, getting some production from a lot of places. Our top guys have been scoring, so it's been contributions across the board."
Emery, meanwhile, continued his hot streak in net. The 29-year old Hawks goalie wasn't tested a lot, but did make a big save early in the first after a Hawks turnover in the defensive zone led to a golden scoring opportunity for Lee Stempniak from close range. Emery saved it to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.
The Hawks proceeded to build a three-goal lead for him in the second on goals by Hjalmarsson at 5:15 and Kane on the power play with just 5:05 left before the second intermission.
Jokinen capped a Flames power play early in the third to make it 3-1 with his 11th goal, which also ended a string of 20-straight power plays killed off by Chicago spanning parts of eight games. Hossa's goal, scored with 8:43 left to play, capped off a sequence in which T.J. Brodie was whistled for high-sticking Kane in the face and turned into a 5-on-3 when the Calgary bench was called for an unsportsmanlike minor during the ensuing Hawks power play.
At 11:17, Sharp set Hossa up for a slap shot from the top of the right circle and he blasted it home for his 15th goal of the season, third in a row and fourth in the past five games to make it 4-1 Chicago. Having such a poor start is what gnawed at Flames coach Brent Sutter afterward.
"For the first two periods, we weren't very good," he said. "I'm not going to stand here and say we deserved the game. You can't play 40 minutes of hockey like that on the road and have seven shots on net in the first 35 minutes of the hockey game – and a lot of your top guys don't even have a shot on net yet – and think that you're going to have a chance to win the game. It's not the way we want to play."
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