It was a start that defied odds, an eye-popping record that had even the most casual hockey fan recognizing what was happening in the city of Chicago. And it was a harbinger of things to come for a Blackhawks team that would set a few more great marks before they were done.
The Streak, the 21-0-3 start to the Blackhawks’ lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season, set a franchise record for most consecutive victories and an NHL record for most consecutive games with a point to start the season. And it was the subject of one of the sessions at the sixth annual Blackhawks convention on Saturday.
“It was unpredictable,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t know what could happen.”
How could anyone predict an early record like that, especially with the start prior to “the start”? A training camp so brief, it should’ve just been billed as a week’s worth of practices. Just one scrimmage, instead of the usual six or seven, and that came against the Rockford IceHogs. It was hard to guess what the Blackhawks were going to do, coming off that first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes the previous season. But they also had everyone back, and that proved pivotal; the familiarity and the chemistry was there from the start, as was the depth.
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So the streak commenced: one game after another the Blackhawks collected at least a point, breaking out to a start that basically assured them a postseason berth. Reaching 24 was huge. But for the Blackhawks on Saturday’s panel – Quenneville and forwards Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell – the one that really stood out was Game 9.
“The game that got our attention was Calgary. Ray Emery singlehandedly got it going,” said Quenneville, referring to the Blackhawks’ former backup and his 45-stop performance. “That really stood out.”
Indeed, without Emery’s outing there, we’re not even talking about the massive streak now. But on it went. As the points piled up, so did opposing teams’ desires to be the squad that ended it. So many games were close, so many games almost went the opposition’s way, but the Blackhawks’ balance and depth paid off often.
“It was just a different guy every night,” said Kane, who got off to a tremendous start after playing overseas during the lockout. “That’s why our team was so good.”
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As the streak grew, so did the attention and the pressure to keep it going. The Blackhawks handled both beautifully, keeping perspective of the situation and not getting too high as the victories piled up. The phrase “one game at a time” became a daily mantra to the media.
The Blackhawks couldn’t have asked for a better start last season. It had it all: victories, big individual moments, plenty of attention and a Sports Illustrated cover that (gasp) didn’t jinx them whatsoever. The start was something. The finish was, too.