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Hawks keep rolling by beating Sharks 4-1

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks continue to look like a team destined for great things this season.

The Blackhawks not only beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 at United Center on Friday night, they also crept closer to the NHL's all-time record for consecutive games at the start of a season with at least one point.

At 11-0-3, the Blackhawks have points in their first 14 games, tying them with the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens. The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers earned points in 15 straight and the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks hold the League record with 16 straight.

More important is that all three of those teams finished their season by winning the Stanley Cup – not that the Blackhawks are looking that far ahead.

"I don't know if we knew about the record, but we feel like we've got a good group in here – there's no question," forward Patrick Sharp said. "The record represents that, but I think we learned our lesson last year. We were sitting in first place and lost 10 in a row."

It's hard to see this team going through anything similar.

Chicago is earning points every time out and is solidly atop the Western Conference because of it. In games when the Blackhawks aren't at their best, they still find ways to earn at least one point by pushing games to overtimes or shootouts. When they are clicking, as they were on Friday, it almost seems like they can't do anything wrong.

The attack was primarily handled by the bottom-six forwards – headed by fourth-line center Marcus Kruger's fortunate-bounce goal in the second period, an assist in the third and his work on the penalty kill. Ray Emery started for injured Corey Crawford and stopped 27 of 28 shots.

Then there was the first-period fight that Chicago captain Jonathan Toews got into with Sharks captain Joe Thornton – with whom he has some history in terms of rough play.

Toews, who sparked the scrap by hitting Thornton in the corner and then shoving him multiple times, picked up an extra four minutes in penalty time for unsportsmanlike conduct and boarding. That put the Sharks on the power play, but Chicago – the top-ranked penalty-killing team in the League – killed off 3:24 of the infractions before San Jose's Patrick Marleau was whistled for interference to even the sides.

Just 21 seconds after Marleau sat down, Dave Bolland followed up his own shot from the right circle by tapping in his fifth goal of the season off the rebound at 19:16 for a 1-0 lead.

"There's always little things, players that are going to be chipping at you and trying to get under your skin," Toews said of his decision to fight Thornton. "I felt it was something I needed to do to stand up for myself and I did it … and I'm glad I did. I think it helped our team and we got the win. That's the most important thing."

That sequence gave the Blackhawks momentum heading into the second, a period they wound up dominating. Chicago took control in the second by drawing a pair of penalties, keeping the puck in the Sharks end for long stretches, outshooting San Jose 17-8 and taking a 3-1 lead on goals by Kruger and Andrew Shaw.

Hjalmarsson made it 4-1 at 6:28 of the third. Kruger got the primary assist on that goal with a nice drop pass to Hjalmarsson for the point blast, but also got rewarded on his goal in the second with a fortunate bounce.

After flipping the puck into the San Jose zone from just outside the blue line, Kruger followed up the play by streaking down the slot as the puck bounced past Antti Niemi and hit the right post. It kicked out the other side right to Kruger, who tapped it home for a 2-0 lead.

Tim Kennedy then scored the Sharks' lone goal about two minutes later with a pretty goalmouth deke to beat Emery at 5:03 of the second, but Chicago wasn't fazed. The Blackhawks continued to push the issue and eventually put the puck past Niemi again at 14:40 on Shaw's power-play goal – which actually was knocked into the net by San Jose's Joe Pavelski out of midair following a rebound shot during a scramble.

San Jose hasn't won a game since beating Edmonton on Jan. 31 -- a span of seven games that followed a 7-0-0 start. The Sharks' offensive ineptitude also continued.

"It's been different things, different nights," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "Let's face it, tonight one team was fast, moved pucks, attacked. Another team bobbled pucks, misplayed them and was slow. Simple as that. We haven't been that way in all seven games."

Thornton said the only thing the Sharks can do is just keep plugging away until their fortunes start to turn around.

"We just have to keep working," Thornton said. "We'll work our way out of this and that's all we can do. It's tough, but we have a lot of veterans here."

As for the fight with Toews, Thornton said he was a little surprised himself.

"He just asked me to fight and I was kind of shocked and I said, 'sure', so that's how it went," Thornton said. "He hit from behind; it wasn't anything serious. Then he just asked me to fight, so I obliged."

Over on the Blackhawks bench, players banged their sticks against the boards to show their approval. Next came yet another big penalty kill to change a game in Chicago's favor.

"I said to the guys in the room, ‘Any chance you get to see Johnny get punched in the face a few times, we'll gladly kill that off,'" Sharp said, laughing. "Give him credit, though. He fought a much bigger player and he did pretty well. When you see that, it kind of gives a little energy boost to the team, and we responded accordingly."

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