The Blackhawks kept downplaying all the record talk. It was more fodder, more of a talking point for we media folk than it was for them.
But once they set a new NHL record on Friday, they had to admit: they enjoyed it a little.
Brandon Saad’s short-handed goal proved to be the game-winner, and Ray Emery stopped 26-of-27 shots as the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 at the United Center on Friday night. The Blackhawks established a new league record, 17 consecutive games without a regulation loss to start the season. The 17-game streak was also a franchise record for longest overall point streak in a season.
[MORE: Sharks' Thornton says Saad's goal killed San Jose]
The Blackhawks now have 31 points and a six-point edge over second-place Anaheim in the Western Conference. Viktor Stalberg tallied his fourth goal of the season for the Blackhawks, who welcomed back Daniel Carcillo (knee) and Brent Seabrook (lower body) from injuries. Marian Hossa was also back, albeit he never missed any action after getting hit on Tuesday.
Dave Bolland, however, sustained an upper-body injury late in the second period and did not return. Coach Joel Quenneville said the center is day-to-day.
For several games now the Blackhawks shrugged off “the streak” talk. Their one-game-at-a-time approach was, as defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson noted, cliché. But it was also effective. The Blackhawks never looked past anyone, never got too ahead of themselves, and it’s why they’re sitting where they are now. Well, that and good goaltending, depth, balanced lines and good special teams.
[WATCH: Blackhawks-Sharks highlights]
So after Friday’s victory, the Blackhawks finally admitted that hitting the new record didn’t feel half bad.
“It is pretty impressive when you think about it, for sure: 17 games, especially in a short season like this,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s been a good run so far. But the biggest thing is no one is satisfied. It’s obviously fun to make history, but we always want to win every game. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
“The guys should be proud of the accomplishment. But we shouldn’t be happy with where we’re at,” he said. “I like the demeanor and the approach, just looking to the next game, trying to contribute. It’s been a nice environment for the guys and they keep pushing each other.”
Still, keeping the record going was looking a little dicey in the first. While the Blackhawks outshot the Sharks 11-8 in the first, there was something still flat- and uninspired-looking about their game. Patrick Marleau knocked home a rebound with 14.2 seconds remaining in the first, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
Then the Blackhawks started waking up, getting a boost from their penalty kill. Less than a minute after completing their first kill, Stalberg slipped one past former Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi to tie it 1-1.
“It was a great pass by Kaner to give me some time with the puck. He screamed he wanted it back the whole time,” Stalberg said. “I couldn’t find the lane, tried to bank it off him and in and it worked.”
[WATCH: Blackhawks excited to make history]
Then came Saad, who tallied the Blackhawks’ first shorthanded goal of the season with three seconds left on a Seabrook minor. It was another big play by the rookie.
“He has good instincts, anticipates well, and offensively there are some things that help him on the defensive side of things,” Quenneville said. “He’s in a position right now now, Bolley goes down and all of a sudden he assumes some ice time. And that could help his overall game as well.”
Emery, who was pivotal during Corey Crawford’s time out with an injury, was once again stalwart. Save that Marleau goal, he allowed nothing.
“It’s special to do something as a group,” he said of the record. “The start of the year is the worst time to do it; you’d rather do it at the end. But it’s great to get off to this start. You can’t ask for more. But at the same time we can’t be complacent.”
The Blackhawks downplayed the record talk. They just kept their focus on each individual game, which helped them attain the record they so deftly deflected. Still, now that it’s theirs, they’ll enjoy it.
Until the next game.
“We know every run is going to finish one day, but we’ve got a good thing going,” Hossa said. “We’ll try to keep it going as long as we can. It won’t be easy but we can enjoy tonight’s win and try to get the next one.”