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Hawks edge Sharks, extend point streak to 17 games

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn't have to sense that his team was in the moment late in the third period Friday night. He could see it and he could hear it.

"Kaner [Patrick Kane] is throwing hits in the offensive zone, awareness defensively with our positioning -- doing things that lead team camaraderie and team success," Quenneville said. "Being on the bench and saying the right things, 'Depth with our third man,' 'Good changes,' 'Short shifts,' 'Playing the score and the clock.' I think that all goes hand in hand.

"You get more satisfaction getting accolades for what you do as a team, knowing you're contributing in a meaningful way. I think that feels better."

No team is feeling better than the Blackhawks these days. They are the best team in the National Hockey League through the first one-third of the season -- and they have a shiny new mark to show for it.

Chicago's come-from-behind 2-1 win against the San Jose Sharks at United Center means they are the first team in the history of the NHL to start the season with at least one point in 17 consecutive games.

Rookie left wing Brandon Saad, the youngest player on the Blackhawks at 20 years old, scored his first career shorthanded goal early in the third period to provide the difference. Viktor Stalberg scored late in the second period on a bad-angle shot that went in off of Sharks goalie Antti Niemi and Ray Emery made 26 saves for his fourth win in as many games and seventh win in as many starts this season.

The Blackhawks are 14-0-3 and haven't lost a regular-season game in regulation since March 25, 2012 -- a streak of 23 games. The longest previous streak to start a season with a point was 16 by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who were 12-0-4 before losing to Calgary. They went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Chicago equaled Anaheim's mark earlier this week by beating Vancouver 4-3 in a shootout. The Hawks, who have won four in a row, came back from a 1-0 deficit Friday to make the mark their own. They have an opportunity to build on it Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team they beat 3-2 earlier this season.

"It's tough to put into perspective," Stalberg said. "It's kind of crazy to think you're not going to lose a game in regulation for the first 17 games. It's a cool thing to be a part of and we're excited about it, but I think the focus has been more on us playing each and every game here and the focus on the record has been from the media. Certainly it has been hard to not take notice of it."

The Blackhawks have won 10 games in regulation, including three against the Sharks by a combined score of 11-5. They have also won twice in overtime and twice in the shootout. The only three blemishes on their record so far this season have come in the shootout with losses to Minnesota, Vancouver and Anaheim.

"It's a team effort," said Emery, who has started the last four games because Corey Crawford has been out with an upper-body injury. "It's been that way since the start of the year. The record came, but more importantly we've been able to focus and refocus after big wins and tight games. It's encouraging."

San Jose, which was 7-0-1 through its first eight games, was hoping to be the team that stopped history. Instead, the Sharks failed to build on their 2-1 win Tuesday in St. Louis, their lone victory this month, and lost in regulation to the Blackhawks for the third time in the past 17 days.

Patrick Marleau gave San Jose a 1-0 lead with 14.2 seconds left the first period, but they went 0-for-4 on the power play and gave up the shorthanded winner to Saad.

"Yeah, you're [angry]. You're not happy with it and you shouldn't be after a loss," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "The effort was much better [than in previous losses to Chicago this season]. The battle was better. We still only scored one goal. We gave up the winner on the power play. So we should all be a little unhappy."

McLellan was particularly unhappy with how Saad scored his first career special teams' goal.

San Jose defenseman Brent Burns gave Saad space to carry the puck into the zone and eventually into the left circle. Burns then backed off even more, giving the rookie forward a shooting lane that he used to beat goalie Antti Niemi on the glove side 2:24 into the third period.

There were still three seconds left in Brent Seabrook's tripping penalty.

"I thought we let a player that wasn't very dangerous -- not because he isn't talented -- but a player in a situation that wasn't very dangerous skate into a primary scoring spot without even challenging him," McLellan said. "I'm not sure if our goalie was on the angle or not, but I'm disappointed we didn't challenge him earlier."

Burns told that he saw Saad coming down the left side with a lot of speed, so he was trying to "protect the middle, take him to the outside." But Saad had a shooting lane from inside the circle and was able to rifle the shot to the far side of the net.

"Sometimes power-play guys let back a little and luckily I took advantage of it," Saad said.

The Blackhawks are taking advantage of just about every inch they're being given this season.

They're fourth in the League in offense (3.24 goals for per game), second in defense (1.88 goals against per game) and third in penalty kill (87.7 percent). Their goaltending duo of Emery and Crawford, once considered to be the team's greatest area of concern, has emerged as one of its greatest areas of strength.

Chicago's star offensive players -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp -- are all contributing on the scoresheet. The Blackhawks' defensive depth has arguably never been better and Duncan Keith and Seabrook are again looking like one of, if not the most, dominant pairs in the NHL.

But perhaps most notably, the Blackhawks are not content with having at least one point in 17 straight games.

"There's no looking back. We want to keep winning," Stalberg said. "If we keep playing the way we have been we'll be in a good spot to keep winning. Obviously a loss is going to come at some point, but we want to try to get as many points as possible."


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