8:54 AM CST, March 4, 2013
A friend had a question: Which Blackhawks game during their record 19-0-3 start sums up this team the best?
My answer came pretty quickly: None.
Because they’ve won too many games in too many different ways.
You can marvel over Ray Emery’s incredible 45-save theft of a shootout win in Calgary. You can love Patrick Kane’s perfect back pass to Marian Hossa for the overtime winner in Dallas. You can smile about chasing Phoenix goalie Mike Smith.
But you can’t pick just one win and say that’s the game.
The Hawks have won when the goaltending was unconscious and unreliable. On Thursday, they won with both goalies shutting out an opponent.
They’ve won by ending games early with a blizzard of goals. They’ve won by rallying late. And they’ve won when blowing a lead late and then prevailing later still.
You could jump out of your seat over Nick Leddy’s overtime winner against the evil Red Wings in January. You could sit there in awe of Jonathan Toews coming up big and early in a statement game in St. Louis last week. You could scream about Kane’s late power-play goal and dazzling shootout winner in Detroit on Sunday.
There are more choices, and that’s the point. The Hawks’ variety of wins shows the depth and breadth of the roster, coaching and management.
They’re intimidating teams with their speed and skill. Defensemen seem to back up quickly, and Kane looks like he’s getting the Pavel Datsyuk treatment from opponents who hesitate in trying to hit him because he appears shiftier this season.
At the other end, the Hawks are frustrating opponents with their defensive coverage. They don’t allow a lot of second chances, and they stop a lot of first chances because everyone is sacrificing the body to block shots.
The Hawks also are standing up to the roughhouse tactics aimed at slowing them down. Toews doesn’t need to fight again this season, if that’s OK with everybody, but that’s a sign the game-night roster has toughness one through 20 instead of just one or two cement heads.
If there is a concern, it’s that the Hawks have blown late leads at home against good teams. Vancouver scored twice in the last three minutes to erase a 3-1 advantage. A week earlier, Anaheim scored in the final three minutes to force overtime.
I’m sure there will be people who will rip me for more negative writing -- such is the life of a realist -- but if you don’t think the coaches are concerned about protecting leads late against quality teams, you’re nuts.
It’s especially noteworthy when it happens against the two teams chasing the Hawks for Western Conference supremacy, making them likely playoff opponents, and everything is a playoff audition.
The way the Hawks have started the season is special. Enjoy it. But remember, the streak doesn’t win the Stanley Cup. Executing the things that created the streak does.
The Hawks’ stars are playing like stars, their third and fourth lines are a force, their penalty killing is remarkable, and their goaltending gives them every chance to win. Their 5-on-4 power play needs work, although it orchestrated its own little “Miracle in Motown’’ on Sunday.
Overall, we’re talking about the perfect playoff formula, giving the Hawks the ability to win any type of game. Any type of playoff game. That’s what matters. That’s the best thing you can take from the best start in NHL history.
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