CHICAGO – Their historic season-opening run will end at some point, but the Chicago Blackhawks were determined not to let it happen on Friday night against the injury-riddled Columbus Blue Jackets.
Despite trailing by a goal twice and coughing up a one-goal lead midway through the third period, the Blackhawks found another way to force overtime and then win 4-3 in OT at United Center.
This time, they prevailed against the scrappy Blue Jackets (5-13-3) thanks to a game-winning goal by defenseman Brent Seabrook with 1:37 left in the extra period. Seabrook knocked home a perfect feed from captain Jonathan Toews.
"It was a great pass by [Toews]," Seabrook said. "I just tried to get up in the play and it was sort of a scramble along the boards there. Taser had some speed going up and I just tried to get up and help out, and he made a great pass."
Seabrook said he never called for the puck during the play, which started in the neutral zone when Toews made a nifty move to get past Columbus defenseman Adrian Aucoin and carry the puck into the offensive zone for the pass from the left circle through traffic.
It was yet another example of a Blackhawks team that refuses to lose.
"I just like the way the commitment is to that game [we're playing] and doing the right things and keeping ourselves in the game and playing the score and the clock … finding a way to get points," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Sometimes it takes overtime. We've had some tough losses late in games over the last couple years and it's nice knowing that … [we're] finding ways to sustain games when the game's on the line throughout. We've been able to do that, which has been good."
The Blackhawks (18-0-3) won their eighth straight game and extended their season-opening streak of consecutive games with at least a point to 21, the longest in NHL history. Ray Emery made 19 saves to improve his record to 9-0-0 for Chicago, which got regulation goals from Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell.
"Columbus is a hard-working team," Bickell said. "They had us on our heels a couple times in the first and they had a late goal [in the third]. We were down a couple times in this game, and it shows our character in this room to come back. It's been fun and we're just having a blast right now."
Steve Mason stopped 31 shots for the Blue Jackets, who got goals from Vinny Prospal, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Johansen – whose first of the season at 12:23 of the third tied it 3-3. Columbus had already lost a pair of one-goal games to Chicago this season and held a 2-6-2 record in one-goal games overall.
"[It's frustrating] when you're playing these close games all the time and you're just not getting the results," Johansen said. "It shows that our team is resilient though and we come to the rink every day and we put on our working hats. It just takes that little bit more, and we've just got to find a way to do it."
At several points, it looked like Columbus might finally find that answer on Friday – despite being without injured regulars Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, John Moore, Brandon Dubinsky and Derick Brassard.
Columbus came out flying to start the game. A day after the Blackhawks got on the board just 12 seconds into a 3-0 victory on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, the Blue Jackets turned the tables with Prospal's sixth goal of the season to open the scoring only 31 seconds into this game, firing in the rebound of Derek Dorsett's shot.
It was the beginning of a strong start for Columbus, which lost Moore to a freak injury in the morning skate.
Columbus had to recall rookie defenseman Dalton Prout from Springfield of the American Hockey League, but Prout's plane didn't arrive in Chicago until early evening and rush-hour traffic between there and the arena delayed his arrival.
Prout also spent some time warming up while riding an exercise bike before joining his new teammates on the bench late in the first – where Aucoin promptly gave him a "Pleased to meet you" handshake.
Out on the ice, it took most of the first 20 minutes for the Blackhawks to work themselves into the game.
After Marcus Kruger forced Mason to make a save 4:25 into the game, Chicago went without another shot for nearly 12 minutes. The next shot by the Blackhawks came off Patrick Kane's stick at the tail end of a power play late in the period – and it led to Stalberg's sixth goal of the season off a rebound to knot it 1-1 with 3:51 left before intermission.
It was Stalberg's 11th goal and 13th point in 15 games he's played against Columbus; he had eight goals and two assists against the Blue Jackets last season.
Columbus retook the lead an Anisimov's goal 12:42 into the second -- a shot from the right-half-wall that hit Hawks forward Daniel Carcillo and sailed past Emery. Anisimov scored in his first game back after a three-game absence because of a scary upper-body injury.
The Blackhawks bounced back, scoring two quick goals by Sharp and Bickell late in the period take a 3-2 lead into the third. Sharp scored his fifth goal of the season to tie it 2-2 at 17:20 simply by throwing a backhander from a few feet above the goal line toward Mason. It slipped between Mason's left arm and hip and trickled into the net.
Bickell then intercepted a pass at his own blue line, came in and fired from the left circle. The shot beat Mason through the same spot 59 seconds after Sharp's goal.
Johansen tied it when he took a slick feed through the slot from Nick Foligno and beat Emery with a forehand-backhand deke that earned the Blue Jackets a point.