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Saturday, February 23, 2013
Hawks still only focused on next game

By Scott Powers



CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will enjoy Friday night the fact they set a new NHL record by registering a point in their first 17 games of the season.

They might even savor it some on Saturday because they have the day off.

But come Sunday when they play their next game, the Blackhawks plan to cease their celebration and return to the mentality that was key to them building their current 14-0-3 record.

“We’re taking one game at a time,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said following Friday’s 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. “I know it’s a boring cliché, but it’s actually how it is. It’s fun to break a record and be in the history books, but the big thing is the two points. As long as we can get points in the games here, we’re going to set ourselves up for the playoffs.

“I don’t think we’re in the playoffs yet. We got to keep winning games. I don’t think anyone is satisfied in here. We just got to keep playing as we are and keep believing in ourselves.”

Viktor Stalberg, Andrew Shaw, Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg, center, celebrates with Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane after scoring a goal during the second period.
Confidence is one characteristic the Blackhawks have seemed to build more and more of throughout their streak. It’s gotten to where they expect to take at least one point no matter the circumstance.

There was the time Marian Hossa scored in the final seconds to force overtime against the Calgary Flames, which was the ninth game of the streak, and there was when the Blackhawks allowed two third-period goals and fought off a game-ending power play against the Los Angeles Kings to pull out a 3-2 win, which was No. 15.

Even on Friday, the Blackhawks fell behind 1-0 and never wavered. And like a lot of games during the streak, it wasn’t just their star players who came through for them. Viktor Stalberg tied the game in the second period, and rookie Brandon Saad scored the game-winner off a short-handed goal in the third period.

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was again the difference in Friday’s game. It obviously led to Saad’s goal, but it also created momentum for Stalberg’s goal and stopped the Sharks from scoring on all four of their power-play chances.

The Blackhawks’ streak can be credited to many reasons, but their penalty kill is among the top ones. The Blackhawks have allowed seven goals in 72 chances for a 88.7 percent on the penalty kill this season.

“I think there’s a lot of things, probably a combination of things that have helped,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “I think getting key contributions from a lot of different players has helped. When you have that depth, everything is easy. It doesn’t come to down to one or two guys. It’s a group effort; it’s a team effort.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville praised that team effort for the streak his players have created, but he also stressed they weren’t anywhere near their end goal.

“The guys should be proud of the achievement, the accomplishment,” Quenneville said. “I just think we shouldn’t be happy where we’re at. We just want to keep trying to get better. I like the demeanor and approach, just looking forward to the next game and trying to make contributions to your linemates or your defensive partner or your fellow goalie. So, it’s been a nice environment for the guys. They keep pushing one another.”

With such a start, it’s only natural for people to wonder if the Blackhawks have what it takes to win another Stanley Cup. When that was asked to Keith on Friday, he didn’t flinch at the question.

“It should be like that every year,” Keith said of having expectations to win the Stanley Cup. “We have the talent in the room. Everyone thinks like that. Our chances are as good as anybody. You look around the league there’s a lot of good teams, a lot of good talent.

“It’s early in the season. We’re not going to get carried away here, get ahead of ourselves. That’s what we’ve done since the start of the season. We’ve stayed even keel. We’re going to keep doing that.”