By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) Good luck convincing this team they’ll lose.
Sure, the Blackhawks will eventually fall in regulation, but until it happens, they’re just going to play like they’re invincible.
It happened again Tuesday night at the United Center, where the Blackhawks brushed off an early goal from the opponent and fired off four of their own in the first period en route to a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild.
The win extended their season-starting point-streak to 23 games and marked the first 10-game winning streak in franchise history. The team also extended its regular season point-streak to 29 games, dating back to last season, the second-longest such streak all-time.
“It’s exciting when you go through times like this,” captain Jonathan Toews said after a two-assist effort. “The fans are excited, there’s a lot of talk, they have high expectations for us now after the start we’ve had. I don’t know if they expect us to keep going like this for 48 games, but when you have success, it’s great.”
Earlier Tuesday, following the Hawks’ morning skate, an out-of-town reporter asked Joel Quenneville about how the core of his team has contributed to the record start to the season. But the reality is, the youngsters and newcomers are just as responsible for the Blackhawks’ success this year as the veterans who were around to win the Stanley Cup in 2010.
That was evident against the Wild, as rookie Brandon Saad — who has been dubbed “The Man-Child” by his teammates — sparked the Blackhawks with three points in the first period, including his fourth goal of the season, firmly validating his spot on the top line next to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Bryan Bickell scored two of the Hawks’ four first period goals, with Hossa also contributing a goal after the team honored him with a pregame ceremony for playing in 1000 NHL games.
And it’s exactly that formula — consistent play from the veterans, surprising play from the youngsters — that has the Blackhawks catching the attention of a country that doesn’t exactly have hockey top of mind.
“You can probably talk about each and every player on our team and spend a couple minutes in saying how good they’ve been this year,” Quenneville said. “Game-in-and-game out, our top players have been our best players and the contributions we’ve been getting from everyone else is the same so it’s a healthy situation to be in.”
What also makes the streak so impressive is that you know the Blackhawks are getting the best efforts from their opponents every night. If you’re playing the Blackhawks right now, it’s a game you’ve circled on the calendar. You want to be the team that ends the streak. And that’s a big reason why seven of the contests during the current 10-game win-streak have been one-goal games. But whether opponents are carrying leads late into the third period — like the Red Wings Sunday — or jumping out to them in the first few minutes of the game — like the Wild Tuesday — the Blackhawks simply don’t care.
Last year, the resiliency to respond to adversity often wasn’t there. This year, it’s so prevalent you wonder if the Hawks even realize when they’re losing.
“There’s all sorts of adversity and challenges that come up whether you’re up a goal, down a goal, teams coming at you that really want to beat you in your own building and spoil this whole thing that’s going on. And none of it seems to faze us,” Toews said.
Essentially what the Blackhawks have told the NHL is: Want to beat us? Too bad. Your game-plan isn’t elaborate enough, your effort isn’t good enough and your speed isn’t fast enough. We’re better than you.
Tuesday night, it looked like Minnesota had a plan to beat the Blackhawks — at least for 10 minutes. The Wild had a lot going for them, playing some of their best hockey of the season coming in, with a goaltender that handed the Hawks one of their three shootout losses this season.
So what did the Blackhawks do when Matt Cullen picked Andrew Shaw’s pocket and Devin Setoguchi scored to give the Wild an early 1-0 lead? They sent Niklas Backstrom to the bench by ripping off four goals before the first period ended, of course.
And what did the Blackhawks do when the play got sleepy in the third and the Wild closed the deficit to 4-3 with 9:28 left? Patrick Kane responded with a goal just over a minute later, of course.
Maybe last year’s Blackhawks would have worried about Minnesota’s momentum coming in or the way the Wild battled back later in the game. Not this year. Not this team.
On to the next one.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.