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Fast start propels Blackhawks past defending champs

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO – The Los Angeles Kings came into United Center with a chance for revenge and an opportunity to cut the Chicago Blackhawks’ bid for an NHL record short by a couple of games.

Instead, the Blackhawks ultimately did to the Kings at the "Madhouse on Madison Street" what they did to them at Staples Center in the season-opener. Chicago downed the defending Stanley Cup champions 3-2 on Sunday afternoon by controlling the first two periods and hanging on to secure the win despite a pair of Mike Richards power-play goals in the third period.

"A lot of people want to look at this streak and think that we’re just incredibly hot right now and that everything is going our way, but really we’re playing a simple game, we’re playing smart and we’re getting good starts to games," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said, after adding a goal and an assist. "Obviously, we don’t want to give up two goals in the third period, but at the same time we did what we had to do. Everyone is contributing and when you have that lack of satisfaction and that hunger every single night, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing."

The Blackhawks (12-0-3) still haven’t lost in regulation and are now tied with the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers at 15 straight games to start a season with at least a point earned. The win puts them one game away from tying the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks for the NHL record – which they’ll have a chance to accomplish on Tuesday night against the rival Vancouver Canucks.

"Just throw some more, whatever, incentive into the game," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said of the Blackhawks’ ongoing feud with the Canucks. "It seems like it’s something new every time we play those guys. It’s always a fun atmosphere, especially in this building."

The fun started early for everybody but the Kings (5-6-2) in this game.

The visitors started the day 12th in the Western Conference, fifth in the Pacific Division and came in struggling offensively despite winning their previous two games. The Kings then found themselves down 2-0 after 20 minutes thanks to early goals by Brent Seabrook and Toews before Sharp potted the eventual game-winner just 56 seconds into in the second.

Chicago also got a strong outing from goalie Ray Emery (25 saves), who won his second straight game pitching in for injured Corey Crawford (day-to-day, upper-body injury). Emery ran into the most trouble in the third, when L.A. pressed and got both of its goals from Richards off power plays. He scored both off slap shots, the first from the point just 56 seconds into the period and the second from the left circle at the 12:50 mark.

The Kings unsuccessfully pushed for the tie, even getting a late power-play in the last minute, but couldn’t get another puck past Emery before the horn sounded.

"I thought we had a great first 40 minutes and then they got some momentum off their power play goal early in the third," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They had a great third period. We had 40 and they had a great 20 and the clock ran out … which was nice."

Jonathan Quick got the start for the Kings and made 34 saves to keep his team within striking distance. He was busy all game, but especially in the first – when Seabrook scored followed by Toews, who poked home a rebound of his own shot in the crease to cap a power play 10:32 into the game.

Seabrook’s goal came 3:33 earlier, when Keith set him up perfectly in the bottom of the left circle with a cross-ice, tape-to-tape slap pass. Quick couldn’t recover in time to stop the shot and was also missing his stick thanks to Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig – who knocked it out on a brief collision outside the crease and then blocked a Kings player’s efforts to slide it back.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter was not pleased about the goal counting.

"[I] didn’t like the Seabrook goal, being that our goaltender should’ve been allowed to have a stick," Sutter said. "It was pushed away. It should’ve been a penalty. The shorter referee was standing right there by the bench. The other guy couldn’t see it, but the shorter one had the same view that I did and should’ve made the call. We shoved the stick to him and they shoved it away. It shouldn’t be a goal."

Instead, it counted and highlighted an impressive shift by Chicago’s fourth line – which has stood out the past few games. Leading up to Seabrook’s tally, just 11 seconds prior, Quick was forced to make a sprawling highlight-reel save on Marcus Kruger’s backhand attempt from point-blank range.

"The slow start kind of cost us," Richards said. "We gave them a lot in the first period with penalties and some turnovers and they scored some goals, which put us behind the eight-ball pretty quick. Off the start, we weren't ready to play."

The second period looked about the same as the first, with the Blackhawks taking a 3-0 lead on Sharp’s goal – his third of the season and first since Jan. 24, a span of 10 games that saw him ring a number of shots off posts and crossbars. This time, Sharp pounced on a loose puck in the slot and buried a wrister over a sprawled Quick – who’d gone down to stop a tip-shot by Toews near the right post.

Another great bounce and another golden opportunity seized by the NHL’s hottest team.

"What’s important to us is getting home-ice advantage and making the playoffs," Toews said. "Those are our goals. Once you get there, the real season starts. That’s a long ways away. When you get to that point, no one really cares or remembers these streaks at the start of the season."

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