What is left to say? The Blackhawks are on such a roll, they even beat the Edmonton Oilers.
You remember the Oilers, much as you might try to forget them. They made their National Hockey League debut at the Stadium in October of 1979. A kid named Wayne Gretzky assisted on their first goal. Before long, the Oilers formed a dynasty that haunted the Blackhawks. Chicago might have had hockey’s second-best team during the 1980s, but the Oilers had half a dozen future Hall of Famers. The Oilers were so good, they won multiple Stanley Cups with “The Great One,” and one after he left.
Fast forward to a year ago, when the young and unpolished Oilers still bedeviled the Blackhawks, collecting 24 goals in four starts, including drubbings of 8-4 and 9-2.
“They’ve had our number, it seems,” said Marian Hossa, who put a halt to this madness while perpetuating another freakishly fantastic trend Monday night. With Patrick Sharp skating every which way to provide the puck—and earn his 400th NHL point—Hossa buried his own rebound at 1:44 of overtime to bring the blazing Blackhawks a 3-2 victory over the Oilers.
That’s 16-0-3, if you’ve lost count. The NHL shut down for months to improve competitive balance, and the Blackhawks are 16-0-3?
“Not as easy as you might think,” cautioned Sharp. “We’ve had a lot of close games, teams are playing us tough, as you saw tonight. But we keep finding ways to win, and our coach keeps pushing the right buttons.”
When Nail Yakupov, among a gaggle of high and promising draft choices, parked a missile that no man or machine could stop past Ray Emery on a second period power play, the Oilers seized a 2-1 lead. Maybe this would be the inevitable end of the stupendous beginning for the Blackhawks. However, the very players who claim to be unimpressed by this record streak absolutely refused to let go of it. The Blackhawks keep saying the fans and media are more absorbed about this run, but that’s the beauty of the binge. They win again, and then ponder how they might be able to correct a few loose ends Thursday night in St. Louis.
Viktor Stalberg brought the restless United Center’s 199th consecutive sellout to a frenzy when he tied the match, 2-2, early in the third period. Originally, on-ice officials ruled that former Blackhawk Nikolai Khabibulin had smothered the puck before it crossed. But video surveillance proved otherwise; it clearly slipped under the goalie’s pads. When Referee Kelly Sutherland announced the results of his phone call with Toronto, it was as though he ordered free beer for everyone.
Still, the roar for Hossa’s conversion of Sharp’s handiwork was louder by several decibels. Then, when Hossa was interviewed by the bench for post-game television, he paused to look up in the stands and listen for a spell.
The fans love him. He is not sure exactly why.
“I try to make them happy,” he said, smiling. “This is really something here. People all around this city, they talk hockey. All the time, they talk hockey.”
This compressed season has been a tapestry of extended stays. The Blackhawks are not alone there. But they are alone in that no game of their 19 has proved pointless, a badge of consistency. Playing 10 of your first 12 on the road is not ideal, nor is having seven in a row at home. Still the Blackhawks have done everything lately except win an Oscar. Besides, they were busy Sunday night, and they aren’t Hollywood, anyway. They don’t stand around patting themselves on the back or congratulating each other.
“You said it… it’s a little freakish,” Sharp went on. “You don’t expect any team to put together something like this. But the thing that keeps us going is wanting to be better.”
Let’s be honest. What the Blackhawks accomplished last season, losing nine games in a row right about this time, is not easy. But what they are doing now is utterly over the top in a sport with so much parity. Their record looks like a typographical error. 16-0-3? Who goes 16-0-3 in anything?
“Nice,” said Hossa.
Each team scored on the same power play in the first period. Lennart Petrell gathered the puck in past a fallen Duncan Keith, and was stopped by Emery. But now Emery was down and no match for Jeff Petry’s shorthanded follow. Patrick Kane tied it 1-1 with a picturesque lateral dash, finished off by a backhand past Khabibulin.
The Blackhawks were far from perfect Monday night, but their record is not that far from perfect. 16-0-3? As Sharp said, the coach is pressing the right buttons.
“There are a lot of buttons,” pointed out Joel Quenneville, almost whispering.