If you tuned in on time Tuesday night, you might have thought they tried things backwards at the United Center and started with the shootout instead of the first period. There were that many breakaways.
But if you stayed with it—and how could you not?—you got your required tie-breaker later, with Andrew Shaw roofing a backhander to provide the Blackhawks with a milestone 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in an electric evening that offered just about everything, including a bit of history.
With the conquest, the Blackhawks matched a National Hockey League record for collecting points in consecutive games to start a season: 16, equal to a takeoff by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who opened 12-0-4. These Blackhawks will try for 17 Friday night against San Jose, although with a 13-0-3 mark, they’ve already established a new standard for points after the opening puck drop with 29, one more than the aforementioned Ducks – who won the Stanley Cup.
Marian Hossa, who scored twice, was to be the Blackhawks’ third soloist in the shootout, but early in what became an edgy and truculent third period, he took an elbow to the head from Jannik Hansen (two minutes, roughing). Hossa went down to the ice, got up, and adjourned to the locker room. The incident occurred eerily close to where Hossa was assaulted and concussed by Raffi Torres during last April’s playoffs. This episode did not appear as serious, but Head Coach Joel Quenneville issued no immediate diagnosis, good or bad.
“I heard my name being talked about on the bench after the (scoreless) overtime,” recalled Shaw, who followed Patrick Kane’s shootout tally that had to be verified via Toronto—another of the night’s oddities. After Ray Emery yielded to Chris Higgins, Shaw charged in on Cory Schneider as if he was double parked, converted, then watched Emery halt the game’s last salvo—by Ryan Kesler, who earlier was banished to the penalty box for “unsportsmanlike embellishment.” Sounds like an X-rated movie. We told you this game between two intense rivals had everything.
For the longest time it appeared it would contain everything except overtime. But the Canucks clicked on two long blasts late in the third period by Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa to achieve a 3-3 situation. Not for lack of ammunition, Vancouver had been blanked by Emery since Daniel Sedin’s score 13:34 into the cold night's three hours of end-to-end theater.
Patrick Sharp tied the match 1-1 on a rocket from the left circle, and then the Blackhawks took a 2-1 advantage during a second consecutive power play. Vancouver’s problems were compounded when Kesler lost his stick; the Blackhawks patiently looked for an opening and Hossa drilled a bullet by Schneider. Moments later, Hossa exited the left corner, puck in tow, and didn’t let go until it found the back of the net. At this juncture, a thoroughly animated crowd began chanting, “HOS-SA!! HOS-SA!!”
Again, this game began as if it were being administered in reverse—that is, the shootout preceding 5-on-5. The Blackhawks generated two breakaways while killing a penalty (!) to Brandon Bollig, who initiated a tiff versus Dale Weise. Hossa had a crack on Schneider, but the goalie stabbed it. Before the period was over, Schneider survived solos by Dave Bolland and Sharp. Then there was Marcus Kruger, perched near the Vancouver cage wearing a hungry look. But it appeared that he was chopped with no whistle by David Booth—much to the dismay of a rather involved fan base.
At the other end, Emery twice foiled Daniel Sedin on sorties through and around a Chicago defense rearranged by the absence of Brent Seabrook, whose spot beside Duncan Keith was somewhat rented by Sheldon Brookbank. To continue the strangeness, after all those individual histrionics, Sedin skated down the right side and just flipped an innocuous backhand on Emery. The puck escaped him, and it was 1-0. But the Blackhawks, buzzing, rattled 16 shots on Schneider during that three-goal middle period when their speed again manifested itself.
You can’t teach that, and thus far, not many opponents are handling it. If the Blackhawks aren’t the best team in the NHL, they are playing like it. Through 16 games—the equivalent of a regular NFL season, and a third of their post-lockout assignments—the Blackhawks are on pace to register 87 points.
In 1994-95, the last 48-game season, the Detroit Red Wings led the league with 70 points, then lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the New Jersey Devils, who had only 52. Of course, there were no three-point games during that ancient era. But still, the Blackhawks refuse to obey the law of averages, and it’s not like they are playing downtrodden teams.
Admit it. The Canucks are good, even if you don’t like them.