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Between the Dots: Thrilling win anything but normal

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks

If it reads and sounds and feels like a broken record of broken records, that’s because it is.

It is also one more thing.

“It’s not normal,” decided Daniel Carcillo, who scored the winner from a goalmouth scrum Wednesday night at 19:10 of the third period to bring the improbable Blackhawks a 3-2 conquest of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center.

The victory was a franchise high and counting 11th straight for the Blackhawks, who have reached the halfway mark of their season with numbers that could pass for a lottery ticket: 21-0-3. No team in National Hockey League history has exploded from the starting gate like that, and having avoided a regulation loss in 30 consecutive games over two seasons, the Blackhawks are only five shy of tying the Philadelphia Flyers’ remarkable stretch in 1979-80.

No, this is not normal. For this assignment against a foe with somewhat comparable speed, the Blackhawks might have seemed vulnerable. Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik were scratched from the opening lineup; neither Andrew Shaw nor Patrick Sharp could finish. Sharp’s injury to be named later appears the most problematic, according to Coach Joel Quenneville, who had to concoct a Denver omelet of forward combinations.

When Ray Emery—now 10-0-0, another NHL-record beginning—permitted a squishy tally midgame for a 2-1 Avalanche lead, a sense of restlessness engulfed the building. But he was unscathed thereafter, and besides, if the Blackhawks are pondering their next regulation defeat as they approach March 25, the one-year anniversary(?) of their last one, they will have to clear it with captain Jonathan Toews.

He’s not normal, either. Refusing to acknowledge how these boys of winter are defying the law of averages, Toews decided to lug the puck toward a brilliant shorthanded score for a 2-2 tie at 2:19 of the third. An expectant gathering of 21,531 erupted at the effort and the possibility that, even with a depleted roster, the Blackhawks might at least salvage their point streak.

Carcillo had a better idea. Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov, solid but a known provider of the occasionally succulent rebound, was under siege with overtime beckoning when the Blackhawks’ thick forward hung out, waited outside the blue paint, got his stick on a loose puck and buried his first of a star-crossed season. Everybody in the stands stood and screamed; he went to his knees, to be joined in a group hug.

“A long time coming, a big weight off my shoulders,” said Car Bomb, who recuperated from wounds one winter ago, only to be sidelined again during the Blackhawks’ opener at Los Angeles. “I want to contribute to this team like everybody else in this room has, so this is a good feeling. I was a hockey player before I was a fighter. I think I can help this team in more than one way. You can get pigeonholed as a tough guy in this league, but you can’t do just one thing. Not anymore.”

And so it goes. The Blackhawks lost bodies Wednesday night, lost a few footraces, but still did not lose a game in regulation. With seven different Stanley Cup winners in as many years since the lost season, the NHL proudly markets parity. Which is why Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations, is so taken with the streak.

“The salary cap has a lot to do with the balance, obviously,” he said. “It’s difficult to keep your players and as a result, dynasties are a thing of the past.”

These Blackhawks are not applying for status as an exception, nor is Bowman nominating them for it any more than he is lavishing parental praise on son Stan, the team’s Vice President/General Manager.

“The organization’s mindset, I think, after last season is that we have a good nucleus and we didn’t have a bad year,” Scotty went on. “We were eliminated in a playoff with five overtimes, a couple soft goals that cost us, and a goalie in Mike Smith (of Phoenix) who stood on his head. So, the hope was that some of our young guys could improve to the point that our five or six top guys weren’t depended on every night.

“That’s happened, at least so far, and that’s good for the stars as well as all the rest. More depth, less pressure on a few players. Plus, I have to say that Joel had confidence in Corey Crawford all along. Sometimes goalies take a step back before they hit their stride. It’s been something, the way everybody seems to contribute.

“And beyond the depth in Chicago, there’s some talent in Rockford. I like a lot of what I see down there. Playing down there during the lockout helped guys like Andrew Shaw and Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger hit the ground running when our season started. But there’s more down there. The organization’s depth extends to the minors.”

Rockford reinforcements might be required for Friday night's rematch in Denver. If they aren't normal, they will fit right in.

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