CHICAGO – Not even the Edmonton Oilers and their "Bulin Wall" could keep the Chicago Blackhawks from extending their National Hockey League record points streak to start this season.
The Blackhawks also got a measure of revenge against a nemesis from last season on Monday night at United Center, when Marian Hossa put home his own rebound at 1:44 of overtime to give Chicago a thrilling 3-2 victory.
Despite twice blowing out the Blackhawks (16-0-3) at Rexall Place last year and getting a strong performance out of former Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (31 saves), the Oilers (7-7-4) just couldn't keep the NHL's hottest team from extending its unprecedented streak to 19 straight games of starting a season with at least a point earned in each.
"If you'd told us this at the start of the season, it would've kind of blown our socks off," Blackhawks star forward Patrick Sharp said after his hard charge to the net in OT led directly to Hossa's goal. "I don't think anyone anticipated [this], but as the season's gone on, it's just been ‘Come to the rink prepared to play.' We haven't had a whole lot of practice time. It feels like it's hockey 24 hours a day, and that's the way we like it. We're just taking that next step every day."
They also claim there isn't a whole lot of talk amongst themselves about their newly-set record.
"At least personally, I haven't really sat back and thought of it game to game," Sharp said. "It's an amazing start that we've had. We've come from behind, we've played with leads, but I don't think we were happy being down after the second period … especially the way we got down."
After rookie Brandon Saad picked up his second penalty of the game in the second, Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov put Edmonton up 2-1 with 5:33 left before the second intermission on the subsequent power play. He one-timed a pass from Sam Gagner past Ray Emery, and the goal put the Blackhawks in unfamiliar territory starting the third.
Prior to this game, Chicago had only trailed after two periods in two games – going 1-0-1 in those matches.
"The biggest thing is that we don't want to lose right now," Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said. "We want to keep this thing going. I'm telling you, after the second period guys weren't very happy that we were down a goal and we knew we wanted to come back and change that right away."
Viktor Stalberg made sure it happened just 2:24 into the third, when he tied it 2-2 by swatting home a puck thrown toward the crease by Michal Rozsival from below the goal line. It took an official video review in Toronto to confirm the puck actually slid across the goal line underneath Khabibulin, but it stood nonetheless and again brought the home crowd back to life.
Kane did the same thing 5:30 into the first when he quickly tied it 1-1 by scoring his 10th goal at the tail end of the same Blackhawks power play that saw Edmonton's Jeff Petry score shorthanded at 4:28 to open the scoring. Just as they've done all season, the Blackhawks responded each time they fell behind and then found a way to get the second point in the end.
"Big picture, it's an excellent point against the strongest team in the National Hockey League right now," Oilers coach Ralph Krueger said. "Of course you feel pain, having the lead going into the third period. It's definitely something you dream and believe you can close it, but they really are an amazingly powerful team. They're very, very strong on the puck. They never let up at all."
That's probably the biggest key to Chicago's amazing start – the relentless way the Blackhawks seek the puck seemingly all game long. That kind of desire wasn't always there with this kind of consistency in the two seasons that followed the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship, but it's there now.
It's also proving to be a real headache for Western Conference teams to match shift for shift.
"I like to be on the puck and the pressure game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've got some guys that have patience and presence with it. I think that tenacity is something that we wanted to make sure we took a little bit of as our identity to start the season."
They're getting it from just about every position, including goaltenders Emery and Corey Crawford – who are both red hot behind a stingy defensive effort by the teammates in front of them. A night after Crawford shutout the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 in his return from an upper-body injury, Emery (8-0-0) stopped 17 of 19 shots and helped kill off three of the Oilers' four man-advantages – including one in the third with the game still deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.
The win concluded an impressive seven-game homestand for Chicago, which went 6-0-1 on it after coming back from long six-game road trip that finished with a 4-0-2 mark. Next up for the Blackhawks is a tough Central Division road matchup on Thursday against the rival St. Louis Blues, who will try to get even for a 3-2 loss on Jan. 22 in Chicago.
"When you look at it, seven games in a row at home … that's a tough thing to get points out of every game," Quenneville said. "It was good for the guys. They should be commended for being consistent in their approach, kind of comparable to our start. It was a tough homestand finding ways every night and we expect everybody to be ready when we play them. We've put ourselves in a good spot, but expect teams to be ready and gunning for us."
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