It lasted 46 days, and 24 games. It brought national attention back to the sport of hockey, and the city of Chicago. The Blackhawks remarkable streak is one we may not see repeated in our lifetimes. Here are the top 10 things Hawks fans have learned along the way.
#1: Stan Bowman made all the right (non) moves.
The foundation for this streak was not built in a day, week, or month. It started in summer 2010 where Stan Bowman gutted the Blackhawks depth. He traded away a cup-winning goaltender, and almost the entire 3rd and 4th line. However he kept the main pieces intact; Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and the best defensive pairing in the league, in Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Then came the additions; Viktor Stalberg from Toronto, Michael Frolik from Florida, and so on. Bowman came under fire this off-season by not making any major moves at the 2012 Entry Draft. Now, Chicago’s fans see the method to his once-thought-of madness. The rebuilding process should usually take much longer than this, but the ‘Hawks are the Stanley Cup favourite just 3 seasons later.
#2: Marian Hossa has returned, and better than ever.
It was a horrific sight for any fan of the Indian Head, when Marian Hossa lay motionless on the ice at the United Center. Yes, that would be his final game of the season, and his Blackhawks would go on to lose in 6 games to the Phoenix Coyotes. The 2012 season didn’t roll around come October, and Marian used that to his advantage, and used the extra time to fully recover. When the Hawks finally stepped on the ice at the Staples Center, Hossa was there. And he was there all game as he had a 3-point afternoon in his return. Since then, Hossa has gone nowhere but up, and this season might go down in the record books as one of his best. He has scored 11 goals and added 10 assists in 25 games. No matter when he is out there, he is always the best player on the ice. He has an intensity and dedication to the game that can only come from someone who truly appreciates how quick the game can be taken away from them. We look forward to witnessing more dominant play from ‘Big Hoss’ for many games to come.
#3: It’s no longer ‘The Dunc and Seabs Show’ on defense.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are an unreal defense pairing. They were without a doubt the best in the league just a few short years ago, and they are still among the best. Last season, both players were averaging just under half the game in ice time, a category in which Keith led the league for the past two years. Currently he is averaging 24 minutes a game, (good for 30th) and the Blackhawks have still only allowed 2.12 goals against per game, which is second in the league behind Ottawa. This is due to the elevated play of every other defenseman on the roster. Coach Quenneville can be sure that the other 5 d-men on the roster can get the job done as well, from Niklas Hjalmarsson all the way down to Sheldon Brookbank. The Blackhawks are near airtight, and their defense can jump in the play and do great things in the offensive zone when needed, which is great to see.
#4: Corey Crawford can take them all the way.
Another huge question last season was the ability of Corey Crawford. It was rumored the Blackhawks were looking for a new starting goaltender, and their hat was even thrown into the Roberto Luongo ring. However, he quashed those rumors early on, with a blistering .925 SV% and 1.91 GAA, in a 10-2-3 record, both stats of which are among the leagues’s top 5. He has made some highlight reel saves, such as the full-dive robbery of Pierre-Marc Bouchard in Minnesota. Compared to last year, he is the Hawks most improved player. The difference is night and day, from shaky to sharp, frustrated to calm and collected, and mediocre to excellent. He has definitely been a pleasant surprise to all Blackhawks fans.
#5: Ray Emery completes the league’s best goaltending duo.
In the shortened season, teams knew they were going to rely on their second-string goalie more than in the past, due to the tight schedule, and where Corey Crawford’s great play ends, another man’s begins, and that is the play of Ray Emery. He is still perfect at 10-0-0, and has amassed as many/more wins as a backup goalie than 7 teams have altogether: Edmonton, Columbus, Colorado, Calgary, Florida, Buffalo, and Washington. He shows that he can step up on the ice in a relief role and play great, as he demonstrated against St. Louis, when Crow went off the ice after the 1st period, and Emery preserved the shutout. He starts games well, has improved his angles greatly, and is more confident with his puck handling. All of this shows in his .917 SV% and 2.28 GAA.
#6: The bottom 6 have shone bright.
Just as the defenseman have, the bottom 6 forwards are turning out to be a great compliment to the superstar power the Blackhawks have on the first 2 lines. Moving Dave Bolland up to 2nd line turned out to be a great move, as he freed up room for Marcus Kruger to center the 4th line, which has improved his game tremendously. Him, along with Michael Frolik, and Bryan Bickell are a big part of the ‘Hawks sucess this season. The chemistry that was lacking last season is in abundance now, and the third and fourth lines are working hard night in and night out, and getting rewarded with big goals. None were bigger than Dan Carcillo’s game winner in the final minute of last Wednesday’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche. The team’s plus/minus shows that all lines are contributing; all but two players (Bolland, -3 Carcillo, -1) is at least even or above. Thanks to limited injuries, the lines have been able to stay intact, but with the recent setback to Patrick Sharp, Jimmy Hayes is going to have to step up and continue the success on the lower lines.
#7: Patrick Kane is playing the best hockey of his career.
When Patrick Kane was drafted 1st overall, certain expectations were placed on the young star. He, along with Jonathan Toews, were supposed to be the new faces of the Blackhawks franchise. They have had success, as they won a cup back in 2010, but Hawks fans know that there is lots more left in the tank. The road in between that cup win and the start of this season had been a bumpy one for Kane. He slumped in the past 2 seasons, and besides a pair of dazzling shootout goals, was not carrying the weight on his shoulders very well. He was rumored to be trade bait as recently as this summer, and there was controversy about the 23 year old partying in the offseason. Fans wondered if it was going to be more of the same when the puck dropped on January 21st. They didn’t have to worry long, as Kane sniped the first goal of the 2013 NHL season just 3:41 into the year. He added an assist, and the Hawks had their first win of the year. Since then he has shown us that he is disciplined, focused, and committed to the goal: winning another Champions banner. He is leading the team in goals, (14) assists, (16) points, (30) and has the lowest PIMs (2) while playing in every game this year. Infuriating other teams’ fans is something he does well, and he is better than ever at it thanks to his effort. He is playing like a 6-year veteran should be, and has taken his game to another level, and the rest of the league has noticed.
#8: Joel Quenneville has kept the team on the right track.
In a year where more teams are failing than winning, Joel Quenneville has done an exceptional job at keeping the Chicago Blackhawks on track. Thanks to a young, focused core of players, that are willing to listen to what he has to say, the Hawks have stayed healthy, in shape, and have a good mentality coming in to every game. From the eyes of the media, the team appears to be in a positive mood at all times, whether that is on days off, on game day, or during the game itself. Quenneville is finding interesting ways to keep the mood light, such as a day outside at the Arizona Cardinals stadium during a trip to play the Coyotes, where the Blackhawks had a workout, then relaxed and played some football and soccer, where Coach Q even got envolved. Coaches in the NHL have had to adapt to the 48 game 99 day schedule, and adopt practice plans, workouts, meals, ect., that keep the team playing at their peak level, while keeping them from getting too run-down, and Quenneville’s strategy reigns supreme. All of the coaching staff deserves a huge pat on the back for working in the background during this swarm of national media attention. They have made the best team in the NHL right now.
#9: The team finds ways to win every night.
No team should go 24 games without having a close call now and then. This streak was filled with scares, such as Detroit, where Patrick Kane scored with under 2 minutes left, or Calgary, where Marian Hossa tucked one with only 2 seconds to play. Both those goals sent the games to extra time, games which the Hawks both won. When the streak was on, if you were an opposing team, you were fired up and ready to play by the time Chicago came to town. That means for the first half of the season, Chicago’s opponents were more than ready to play 60 (or 65) minutes of their best hockey, and it shows; out of those two dozen games, all but eight were one-goal affairs. It was the team that made the streak, but individual effort that got them there. This effort wasn’t made by one person, it was made by all of them. You could go down the roster and name a big play each and every player had during those 24 games, and when you see that kind of commitment all the way down a lineup, you know you got a good thing going.
#10: Hockey is back, and it’s here to stay.
It looked pretty grim for hockey fans around Christmas, when the NHL lockout had no signs of progress towards a new deal, and the drop-dead date was nearing closer with each passing day. Hockey fans of all ages were turning away from the game they loved, and instead spending their time and money on another sport. Arena workers were out of a job, businesses suffered, teams were not making any money, and players didn’t get to do what they do best: play the game they love. Just after New Years, a wonderful thing happened, and the 2013 season was saved. After a shortened training camp, the curtains for the 48 game campaign, and no lights shone brighter on that Saturday than the ones in Los Angeles, as the defending champions opened their season favorites to repeat. In the space of 2 weeks, the spotlight was yanked away from the Kings and instead focused on the Blackhawks, hockey’s only remaining undefeated team. Other people besides hockey fans were starting to notice, too. Hawks highlights were being shown on ESPN, LeBron James tweeted at the Blackhawks, and they were even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The run brought people back to the game they loved, and sat down evcery night to watch some hockey. Those people that gave up on the sport are back in the stands, or on the couches, rooting for their favourite team. The business side of hockey, and endless pictures of Gary Bettman, have long been gone; they have been replaced with a sense of hope, for not only championships, but years to come of exciting, uninterrupted NHL hockey.
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