We’re amazingly at the halfway point of this 2013 sprint, and the biggest surprise in the NHL continues to be the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sure, Anaheim and Montreal have been better than anybody could have predicted, but the Blackhawks are running away with the NHL and were unbeatable in regulation until the Colorado Avalanche gave them a rare whipping Friday night by a 6-2 score.
Two nights earlier, the Blackhawks extended their record point streak to start the season to 24 against those same Avs. It was their 11th consecutive victory.
When Daniel Carcillo, of all people, is even allowed off the bench in the final minute and then rewards Joel Quenneville’s trust with the winning goal, you know every single star is aligning in the Windy City.
Look at the Blackhawks on paper and, of course, it’s easy now to understand why this team is so good.
It took a lot of losing to get here (the Blackhawks missed the playoffs nine out of 10 years from 1998 to 2008), but eight members of their 2010 Stanley Cup team remain. That includes the core of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Before the season, though, it was hard to feel good about the Blackhawks.
Few trusted a goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. They’ve turned out to be lights out. The Hawks were a team that finished sixth and eighth in the West the past two years and lost out in the first round of the playoffs. And last year, there were loud rumors of behind-the-scenes dysfunction. That came to the brink late in the season when Scotty Bowman’s old right-hand man in Detroit, Barry Smith, suddenly appeared on the ice teaching the power play.
There were also plenty of questions aimed at Kane when pictures of his drunken Cinco de Mayo in Madison landed all over the Internet.
But Kane, embarrassed by the latest off-the-ice incident, vowed to mature and has been nothing short of outstanding. He ranks second in the Western Conference with 27 points.
“The most important thing is we’re winning games and are obviously up there in the standings and making ground, but also it’s getting some publicity for hockey nationally, which is very important for the sport,” Kane said.
That was evident Tuesday when ESPN, TSN, Sports Illustrated and the Wall Street Journal invaded the Blackhawks’ locker room.
One game after the Blackhawks’ dramatic come-from-behind win over Detroit drew 1.9 million viewers to NBC — the best-ever regular-season game on NBC (excluding Winter Classics) — the Wild-Blackhawks game on Comcast SportsNet Chicago was the network’s highest-rated Blackhawks game ever.
The Blackhawks are winning games in every manner, whether it’s Hossa scoring with two seconds left to beat Calgary for one of Chicago’s 13 one-goal wins or overwhelming teams like the Wild with quick strikes.
Kane says “our core players have gotten better” and the young players, such as Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, have given the Blackhawks a boost. The Blackhawks are deep, fast and play the game with the type of flair that makes them fun to watch.
They go north quickly, they make high-risk passes through the slot and neutral zone that other teams would never dream of doing. Kane is the king of that flash.
“There’s a time to play simple and smart, but I’m better when I’m creative and playing to my strengths, which is skill and playing with speed and having the puck on my stick and trying some things,” he said. “It’s about fun. I seem to play better when I have a smile on my face.”