DENVER—How do you stop the Blackhawks? You flood the zone with tractors, bring in construction crews, work on building an overpass and turn a highway into a parking lot.
This is what the Blackhawks encountered after arriving early on St. Patrick’s Day morning from Dallas. A single file of automobiles from Denver’s airport, miles away from the Mile High City, caused two busses carrying players and front-office types to idle for the longest while in a colossal traffic jam you would expect around rush hour, not the witching hour.
That is one way to stop the Blackhawks, and apparently, the only way. On the ice, they see no stop signs and show no signs of stopping. In what surely sounded like a home game Monday night at Pepsi Center, Chicago’s wandering boys of winter defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 5-2, for their third victory in as many games in as many time zones on this trip that will conclude Wednesday night in Anaheim.
So, here we are, two months into the National Hockey League season. While most teams are scratching and clawing for points, the Blackhawks have lost but two regulation contests out of 29 games. Their fans are everywhere. Chants and jerseys partial to the visitors were again evident Monday night. And not only people are following the Blackhawks. The puck is too.
Especially Patrick Kane, who is now must-see TV, even when he isn’t authoring a spin-o-rama. He fed Jimmy Hayes for a backhander to open the scoring, arranged a one-timer for Brent Seabrook that made it 4-1 and tallied himself after Jonathan Toews did some trench digging during the eighth minute of the second period. Andrew Shaw and Toews also clicked for the Blackhawks, whose goalkeeper, Ray Emery, raised his record to 11-0-0.
With Marian Hossa restricted to seven shifts with an upper-body injury, Kane took 31 turns for 22 minutes, 30 seconds and a plus-3.
“He’s phenomenal,” said Hayes. “You have to keep your stick down on the ice, or Patrick will fake out his own guys, not only their guys. The things he can do out there are amazing.”
Joel Quenneville, the most interesting coach in the world, doesn’t always call practice. But when he does, he has a reason. Some of the players might have thought they would get St. Patrick’s Day off in Denver after they destroyed the Dallas Stars, 8-1, and encountered the aforementioned mother of all traffic snarls upon arriving here.
However, Coach Q ordered a light drill Sunday afternoon. Perhaps he was thinking this: better to have his Blackhawks reacquaint themselves to the altitude on the day before the game instead of the day of the game.
Another Q moment: after the Blackhawks lost their second straight following that amazing streak, he obviously sensed his players were running on fumes. They fell here, 6-2, then at home to Edmonton, 6-5. Quenneville could have used that moment to remind all who’s boss and who’s in charge. Instead, as an authority figure comfortable in his ways, Coach Q gave players two straight days off—a rarity even when the schedule isn’t as cramped as 48 games in 99 days.
Some people in Chicago were ready to panic after the Blackhawks had blown their chances to go undefeated. Some people, not many. But Coach Q was not among them.
“Joel is real good about practicing us and getting us rest,” said Kane, who has been real good at everything.