CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks show no signs of slowing down.
The Blackhawks, who entered the NHL in 1926, won a franchise-record 10th straight game by holding off the Minnesota Wild 5-3 on Tuesday night.
Not only did the Blackhawks eclipse the previous mark of nine consecutive victories, set in December 2008, they also pushed their streak of games with at least a point to 23 games – the longest from the start of a season in NHL history.
"I didn't know that was the franchise record," forward Bryan Bickell said after earning First Star honors by scoring two of Chicago's four first-period goals. "We're just looking at every game like it's a new one. It doesn't feel like we're on a streak. I know sometimes we have ups and downs, but we've been finding ways to win … that's important."
As has often happened this season, the Hawks managed to make life interesting in the third period. They led 4-1 before goals by Ryan Suter and Kyle Brodziak cut the margin to one and left the packed house at United Center feeling a little uneasy.
But the feeling didn't last long. Patrick Kane scored at 11:33 of the third by roofing his 12th goal of the season -- just 1:01 after Brodziak cut it to 4-3.
Kane's goal was the first allowed by rookie Darcy Kuemper, who relieved starter Niklas Backstrom to start the second period. The opening period was one Backstrom would probably like to forget after allowing four goals on 17 shots.
After falling behind 1-0 on Devin Setoguchi's goal 8:22 into the game, the Blackhawks responded with a blizzard of goals on a snowy night in the Windy City. As a press box full of national media watched, Chicago upped its record to 20-0-3 and continued its journey to change National Hockey League history.
Counting last season's 3-0-3 finish, the Blackhawks have recorded at least a point in 29 straight games – moving them past the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens into second place on the League's all-time list of longest point streaks. The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers ran off 35 straight games with at least a point and stand alone in Chicago's sights.
"I guess some people might think that we're playing out of our capacity, and we don't believe we're even close to that," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after assisting on first-period goals by Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa. "It's all about your mindset and it's all about how you look at it. For us, we know there's always going to be challenges that we can work on overcoming, and it's good to have that confidence as a team – that we can just kind of get together in this locker room and talk about things we need to focus on and worry about."
The early goal against, for instance, continued a recent trend of falling behind early and overcoming a deficit to win. As they've done 12 other times this season, the Blackhawks bounced back after letting in the first goal – they are a League-best 10-0-3 in such situations.
"We haven't really changed our demeanor in a game, whether we're ahead or behind," coach Joel Quenneville said. "[Despite] giving up early goals here recently, whether it was [against] Columbus or tonight, the response has been almost immediate, which is good. We certainly had a nice finish to that [first] period."
That's one way to characterize it.
The Blackhawks barely blinked after Setoguchi put the Wild up 1-0 by converting Matt Cullen's rebound from just in front of the crease. Continuing a season-long trend, the Blackhawks simply washed out Setoguchi's marker by scoring four of their own in a 5:43 span.
Saad, who had his first multi-point game with a three-point night, knotted it 1-1 at 13:02 with his fourth goal. Bickell followed it up with his first of the game at 13:46 and then scored again at 17:12.
Next was the capper. Fittingly, it was scored by Hossa, who fired home his 10th goal of the season to make it 4-1 on a night that started with a pregame ceremony to honor his 1,000th NHL game, which he played this past Sunday in Detroit.
Hossa was joined on the ice by his wife and baby daughter, and was given a commemorative silver hockey stick plus a painting of him hoisting the Stanley Cup following the Blackhawks' 2010 championship.
"It took me one or two shifts to get into the game after the ceremony, but after that I was fine," Hossa said. "It was a special night for me and for my family. That was a nice, warm welcoming by the fans and I enjoyed it."
Hossa's goal developed just 1:33 after Bickell's second tally when Saad picked up a loose puck in the slot and dished it out for his second primary assist of the period. Hossa banged his stick on the ice for the pass, which he received just inside the right circle and snapped into the upper right corner of the net.
"That was nice on a special night like this to put myself on the board, definitely a special moment," Hossa said.
It was the 427th goal of Hossa's career -- and at that point the stunned pro-Blackhawks crowd was on its feet, reveling in the sounds of Chicago's now-infamous goal song, "Chelsea Dagger," by The Fratellis.
Leading up to that moment were the goals by Saad and Bickell. Saad scored on a backhander through traffic after his first attempt hit Toews in front of the blue paint. Bickell's first was also scored off a rebound, which he scooped to the right of Backstrom, wheeled and fired through Mikael Granland's legs into the net for a 2-1 lead.
Bickell then took a short pass from Saad 3:26 later in the left circle and made it 3-1 by flipping a shot over Backstrom's catching glove into the upper right corner.
Minnesota, meanwhile, found out what it's been like for most of the Western Conference. The Wild (11-9-2) came into the game as one of just three teams to have beaten the Blackhawks this season -- all in shootouts. Minnesota, which beat Chicago 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 30 at Xcel Energy Center, also came into this game after winning five of its previous seven games.
"We just weren't good enough," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "We weren't good with the puck and that's what happens. That's what happens when you play a team like that and you make some mistakes. They'll make you pay."