DENVER -- Throughout their first 24 games, the Blackhawks have been everything from pretty good to great. But no matter how good any team is, there’s always bound to be a bad night.
It came on Friday.
Matt Duchene had a goal and three assists, and the Avalanche scored four times in the second en route to a 6-2 victory over the Blackhawks at the Pepsi Center. The Blackhawks’ unbeaten streak was snapped at 24, which is the new NHL record to start a season; it was also their first loss – regulation, overtime or shootout – in their last 12 games.
The Blackhawks (21-1-3) will maintain at least an eight-point lead atop the Western Conference, depending on how the second-place Anaheim Ducks fare against the Calgary Flames. The Ducks, who led the Flames 3-0 after two periods at the time of this story’s writing, started the night 10 points behind Chicago.
[HIGHLIGHTS: All good things come to an end]
Corey Crawford allowed five goals on 19 shots before being pulled for Ray Emery to start the third. The six goals were the most the Blackhawks have allowed all season; Phoenix tallied four against them in Game 2.
“Giving up five or six goals, it’s definitely hard to win when you allow that much,” Crawford said. “I just didn’t have it tonight. Didn’t give our guys a chance.”
But it went beyond goaltending. The Blackhawks, overall, were just off on Friday. And against an Avs team that was determined to end Chicago’s run, it was costly.
“They were determined to be the spoilers tonight and obviously we didn’t match the effort,” said Jonathan Toews, whose 11th goal this season gave the Blackhawks an early 1-0 lead. “We had our moments where, if we would’ve been smarter and limited our defensive mistakes and won a few more battles, we could’ve kept it a tight game. We gave up too many open shots from the slot and made it too difficult on our goaltenders to make those stops when they had such good quality chances. We had our chances to stay close. But we just didn’t play smart enough in our own zone. It came down to that.”
The Avs were intent on hitting as soon as the game started; they were stifling, they outworked the Blackhawks in a lot of areas, and they got rewarded for it. They were at their best in the second period, when they scored four times, including twice in just 33 seconds. Duchene, John Mitchell, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn all scored in the second for the Avs.
“They had a good pace to their game and they were definitely on tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was 1-1 and we had a good power play just before they went up 2-1. Maybe that would’ve gotten us going on the power play there. They scored off the rush there consecutively, 3-1, and they kept coming. Give them credit.”
The Blackhawks’ run was a thing of beauty. One loss doesn’t change that. At 21-1-3, one loss barely dents their record. The Blackhawks will put all the frenzy, pomp and circumstance that came with that streak behind them. But they will at least look at what they’ve done in those first 24 games – the first half of this lockout-shortened season – and realize how impressive it really is.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Quenneville said. “From start to finish, they found different ways of winning, night in and night out. To contribute to something that hasn’t been done, it’s a great feather in our cap. But let’s move forward and try to get better as we go along. It was fun up to today, and we should be proud.”