By Allan Muir
Here’s the thing about the record-setting, season-opening 17th straight game with a point claimed tonight by the Chicago Blackhawks. It only really matters if ends up being the last one before a loss.
And the way the Hawks looked Friday night in their methodical 2-1 win over the Sharks, it’s hard to imagine this streak will end any time soon.
Who’s going to stop them? Columbus on Sunday? Edmonton on Monday? Maybe the Eastern Conference can send someone over on Tuesday because at this point it doesn’t look like anyone in the West can stand up to this team.
This was far from a work of art, but then no one has ever strung together 17 consecutive masterpieces. This team has finesse to spare, but they’ve gotten this far by committing to will over skill. So there was no thought of riding the early emotion of a crowd waiting to see history and roaring as if they were deep in the playoffs. The Hawks chose instead to suck the passion out of the building, and the Sharks, by gumming up the middle and waiting for a mistake. Considering how rarely San Jose scores, they knew they wouldn’t need many of their own to counter.
It worked. The first period was nearly devoid of entertainment, the only excitement provided by Ray Emery’s adventurous positioning and San Jose’s inability to bury the glorious chances afforded them. The Sharks did finally manage to get one over the line–barely–when Patrick Marleau’s rebound bid was dragged just over the line by Emery’s sliding left pad with just 15 seconds left in the frame. It wasn’t much to look at, either, but Marleau, who had just one goal in his last 10 games, looked like he’d just kissed the prettiest girl at the dance. With assists coming from the equally snakebitten Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, you couldn’t blame them for hoping this was they break they needed.
But as soon as the second period started, it was clear the visitors would have no chance to build any momentum. Just as they did Tuesday against Vancouver, the Hawks took control in the middle frame, limiting San Jose to six shots. Joel Quenneville’s line manipulations created a little more urgency and, eventually, an opportunity for one of their own to get off the schneid. Viktor Stalberg used the one skill that hadn’t deserted him, his legs, to break down the left side. His attempt to put the puck into the crease to Patrick Kane went wide left, somehow beating Antti Niemi as he cheated into the middle. Ugly, but the Hawks were on the board.
After that, the league’s third-ranked penalty kill took over. Chicago took four straight minors, but seemed to get stronger with each one. The third kill even produced Brandon Saad’s short-handed game winner when meek coverage by Brent Burns and an overly aggressive angle play by Niemi offered the rookie winger both time and space to bank it in off the far post.
And that second goal was pretty much church for the Sharks, who generated shots but only one real chance–and on that one, Tommy Wingels’ stick snapped in the act of shooting–as the Hawks and Emery tightened up down the stretch.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was one for the record books.
At least, until the next game comes along.
Tweet of the night: