CHICAGO | Call them the Goldilocks Blackhawks.
Like the 1990s economy, the NHL points leaders’ prosperity keeps feeding on itself, the latest being a 3-2 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Kings, their second in a row over the Stanley Cup champions.
So many things are going so well for the Hawks, they survived a shaky third period. The Kings tallied two power-play goals by Mike Richards, and defenseman Johnny Oduya drew a bad slashing penalty with 64 seconds to go that gave the Kings a 6-on-4 advantage with Kings goalie Jonathan Quick pulled before the victory could be secured.
The end result is a 12-0-3 mark that put the Hawks within one game of tying the NHL record for most games from the start of the season without a regulation loss. Up next as record-knotting fodder are the combative arch-rival Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday at the United Center.
“Just throw some more effort and incentive into the game now,” said forward Patrick Sharp, who scored the eventual game-winning goal on a long shot through a screened Quick in the second period. “It seems like it’s something new every time we play those guys. So it’s always a fun atmosphere, especially in this building.”
The Hawks are having fun against all opponents so far. They’re enjoying a perfect athletic confluence of stars playing up to their potential, role players contributing more than expected, a healthy injection of youth up from minor-league Rockford and sterling goal-tending.
In particular, the goalies have been the Hawks’ stalwart last line of defense.
Starter Corey Crawford is 7-0-3 with a .935 saves percentage, and backup Ray Emery has been almost as good at 5-0-0. He has notched his latest two wins filling in for Crawford – suffering from an undisclosed upper-body injury – the past two games.
“It’s nice to play, it’s nice to feel familiar in the net and have confidence in the repetition of playing consistently,” Emery said of establishing needed rhythm with playing time.
The Hawks had assorted deficiencies in the two seasons after their 2010 Stanley Cup.
They’ve apparently plugged those holes, including getting some scoring and tough defense from their fourth line. They’ve beaten tough goalies like Quick and the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith twice each. They’re getting the breaks a dominant team always requires.
One took place when captain Jonathan Toews tallied the Hawks’ second goal midway through the first period. Toews flicked the puck at a big opening on the right side of the net. Reaching back to try to stop the slo-mo puck, Quick’s stick accidentally gave it the final nudge over the line.
“A lot of people want to look at this streak and think that we’re just incredibly hot right now, and everything’s going our way,” said Toews. “But really we’re playing a simple game. We’re playing smart. We’re getting good starts to games...From top to bottom, a great performance by everyone.
“Everyone’s contributing. So when you have that lack of satisfaction, you have that hunger every single night, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, things are going to go your way most of the time.”