The weather outside turned inclement, but the hockey inside remained incredible.
Judging by the traffic Tuesday, a lot of people stayed home from work. But absentees were few at the United Center, where the uncanny Blackhawks showed up, too, to create and celebrate history.
With the evening’s honoree, Marian Hossa, scoring the eventual game-winner to punctuate a four-goal burst in the first period, the Blackhawks garnered their franchise-record 10th straight victory, a 5-3 dismissal of the Minnesota Wild before 21,836—the 201st consecutive United Center sellout.
The triumph extended the Blackhawks’ unprecedented National Hockey League season start to 20-0-3. Attach to that the end of last year’s complete schedule, and the ledger now reads 29 consecutive regular-season games without a regulation defeat—only six shy of a streak by the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers and eclipsing the mark of 28 established by the dynastic Montreal Canadiens in 1977-78, a machine coached by Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks’ current Senior Advisor to hockey operations. He’s rubbing his eyes too.
“Amazing,” said Bowman, a Hall of Famer not easily amazed. “There is so much more parity in the league now compared to then, I don’t think you’ll see something like this again.”
The celebration for Hossa was, like the man himself, classy. All the Blackhawks wore No. 81 sweaters with “HOSSA” on the back during warm-ups. Video tributes were ubiquitous, and then Hossa was introduced to the red carpet, along with wife Jana and daughter Mia. John McDonough, President and CEO, shared a few words while serenaded briefly by a chorus of “HOS-SA!! HOS-SA!!” from the stands. Hossa was presented a silver stick and a painting of him hoisting the Stanley Cup. We should not forget that captain Jonathan Toews’ first handoff in Philadelphia was to Hossa—an indication of the respect he commands.
“Beautiful ceremony for my family and for me,” said Hossa, who finished off a 6-minute target practice on netminder Niklas Backstrom that included a game-tying goal by Brandon Saad (+3 plus/minus rating) and two by Bryan Bickell. If the Wild had a master plan to clog the middle and check the Blackhawks off their usual allotment of quality chances, the strategy had a short shelf life. Minnesota did beat Corey Crawford twice in the third period, but then Patrick Kane netted a rebound—best described as inviting—yielded by backup masked man Darcy Kuemper.
As for Bowman’s recollections about competitive imbalance, his Canadiens, who did not lose a game from Dec. 18, 1977 to Feb. 23, 1978—registering 23 victories and five ties—won their division by 51 points over the runner-up Detroit Red Wings and eased to their third of four successive Stanley Cups. The Canadiens that season lost only 10 of 80 regular season games, an increase over the previous year, when they lost only eight.
“And only one loss at home,” Bowman reminisced. “Halloween night against Boston. They beat us 4-3. I don’t think you will ever see that again, either.”