Maybe Mike Yeo was still a little giddy after his team’s victory over Edmonton on Sunday, a wire-to-wire performance he considered one of the best of the season.
Because when the Wild coach was asked about Tuesday’s game in Chicago, against the streaking Blackhawks, he smiled. “I love it,” he said. “Excited about it, for sure. It’s going to be a good one.”
Chicago’s run is already historic. The Blackhawks have won nine straight games — including Sunday’s come-from-behind shootout win over Detroit — and are 19-0-3 this season, a points streak that is the NHL’s best-ever start to a season. Take it back to the end of the 2011-12 season and the Hawks have earned at least a point in 28 straight games, tied with the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens for the second-longest streak in league history, seven fewer than the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers.
Chicago’s record includes three shootout losses, the first coming to the Wild on Jan. 30. Now the Wild get a crack at ending another Blackhawks streak.
“It’s a big challenge, we all recognize that,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “But at the same time we have to look at it as a great opportunity for us. We have to be ready. It’s not by accident where they are.”
The latest installment of the streak — Sunday’s victory — is emblematic of Chicago’s season. Down 1-0 in Detroit, Patrick Kane tied the game with 2:02 left in regulation with a power-play goal; then he provided the game-winner in the shootout with a dazzling move.
“It’s amazing,” Kane told the Chicago Tribune. “It seems like we just keep finding ways to either keep ourselves in the game or find a way to win it at the end.”
The streak has not come out of nowhere. Chicago has much of the talented core of players that brought home the Stanley Cup in 2010. And Chicago was the first NHL team to reach 50 points last season.
Still, the team has taken it to a new level this year, for a number of reasons:
• Depth. Familiar names like Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are still atop the team’s scoring stats. But coach Joe Quenneville can go four lines deep, thanks to improvements by players like center Marcus Kruger and wingers Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.
• Defense. The Blackhawks have a group of defenders — led by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Minnesota native Nick Leddy — that is both sound in the defensive end and good at getting the offense started. Detroit coach Mike Babcock called it the best group in the NHL. The Blackhawks are fourth in the league in scoring (3.04) and first in goals against (1.73).
• Goaltending. Corey Crawford rebounded from a disappointing 2012 playoffs to up his game. He has a league-best 1.41 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.
• Poise. Chicago is 12-0-3 this season in one-goal games.
In other words, Chicago is a good measuring stick for a Wild team that has played well of late. Minnesota enters the game having gone 8-2-1 in its last 11 games.
“They are playing good hockey, but so are we right now,” Koivu said. “It’s a great challenge.” Especially considering the game will be in Chicago, where the Blackhawks are 9-0-1.
“You know what? We just have to play our game,” Yeo said. “And we’re a darn good team, too. So we’ll look at Chicago; we know what they’re capable of. We’ll make sure our players are aware of what they do. But we go into that game with the understanding that we’re a good team. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be good.