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Blackhawks make it nine in a row

by Brian Compton
Who would have thought that a team so young would set a new mark for a franchise with so much history?
Such was the case on Sunday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks extended their winning streak to nine games with a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.
Chicago broke the team record of eight straight victories set in December 1971 and matched in January 1981. With the nine-game streak, the Blackhawks also tied San Jose for the longest run of the season.
The streak may very well be on the line on New Year's Day, when the Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The teams will begin a home-and-home series on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena. Chicago trails the defending champions by four points in the Central Division with two games in hand.
"You have to commend the guys on how committed and how diligent they are," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought all our lines were effective tonight. We had a good effort across the board."
Dustin Byfuglien paced the Blackhawks in their latest victory with two goals and two assists. Martin Havlat and Kris Versteeg also scored, and Cristobal Huet made 18 saves, allowing only Cal Clutterbuck's tally at 2:47 of the third period. Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom stopped 28 of 31 shots.
While the Wild have dropped seven of their last 10 games, at least one player wasn't as impressed with the Blackhawks as he was frustrated by his own team's performance.
''Nine wins in a row shows something about their team. But they aren't that good,'' Minnesota center Mikko Koivu said. ''They outworked us tonight. We had one guy tonight, (and) that was Backstrom, who had the effort to play this game.
''If that's not going to change there is something wrong inside of the team and in every player in this room.''
Once again, Chicago jumped out to an early lead, as Byfuglien scored twice in a span of 2:24 before the midway point of the first period. His first tally came at 7:14, when he scored during a scramble in front. He then tipped home Duncan Keith's slap shot for a power-play goal as the Blackhawks grabbed a 2-0 lead. Byfuglien's goals were his sixth and seventh of the season.
Chicago held a 2-0 lead less than three minutes into a 5-1 victory over Philadelphia at the United Center on Friday night.
''We're just going out there trying to win our battles every period, and looking forward to the next one,'' Byfuglien said.
Martin Havlat increased Chicago's lead with his ninth goal of the season at 14:08 of the second period. With the teams at even strength, Havlat took a pass from Brian Campbell and poked the puck past Backstrom to make it 3-0.
Clutterbuck trimmed the deficit early in the third, when he took a pass from Stephane Veilleux in the neutral zone, managed his way behind the Chicago defense and beat Huet with a high wrist shot from the left circle. It was his fourth goal of the season.
The goal came after the Wild were booed off the ice as they left for the second intermission -- just 20 minutes after they were serenaded following the first period.

''Yeah, it was deserved,'' Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. ''We have to play better. There's no doubt we have to skate more, we have to be better with the puck. The fans want to see a good game, want to see guys working as hard as they can, and when they don't see it, they let the guys know.''

Huet improved to 6-0-1 in his last seven starts and wasn't forced to make a key save until James Sheppard was robbed late in the game. Versteeg iced the victory with an empty-net tally at 19:56.
The Blackhawks have allowed an average of 1.33 goals in the winning streak.
''Our forwards are doing such a great job coming back in the middle of the ice, and our defense is trying to stand up at the blue line with good sticks,'' Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Blackhawks' winning streak has been their ability to remain focused despite all of the hype that's been generated by the Winter Classic. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews admitted that he and his teammates are excited, but have found a way to remain focused on the current game.
''We're excited about this game coming up. There's going to be a lot of talk, but that's nothing new,'' Toews said of Thursday's historic event. ''Everyone's talking about the game on Jan. 1, but we're keeping focused on every upcoming game as if it's the biggest game of the season. We're not worried about what's being said off the ice, we just need to keep playing the way we are.''
Despite this phenomenal stretch, Quenneville believes there is still room for improvement. The Blackhawks have scored 4.44 goals per game during this historic run.
"It's certainly hard to do," Quenneville said of the nine-game streak. "We've had a lot of road games in some tough buildings. That's what makes it rewarding right now. I still think we're looking to get better. You look at how everybody's contributing … I don't think anyone should be satisfied. We should keep pushing."
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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