Thursday, March 7, 2013

It's the Chicago Blackhawks' world. We're all just living in it.

I like the Chicago Blackhawks. Anyone who knows me knows I was once an intern with the organization and knows that, as a result, they hold a soft spot in my heart. They're not my favorite team, obviously, but when the Blackhawks are playing anyone other than the New Jersey Devils, which in a lockout-shortened season such as this one is every game, the Blackhawks are the team I'm rooting for.

So considering that, you can probably imagine that I've enjoyed Chicago's historic start to the current season and most of the nonsense idiots have written about it. Lately, however, my impression has gone from excitement, through awe to simple befuddlement.

Because, kids, this shit is just crazy.

After their 3-2 win against Colorado last night, the Blackhawks are now 21-0-3 over their first 24 games, which, if you're wondering, means they've liteally gotten through half of the season without losing a game in regulation. Half. Of an entire season. 50%. Yes, it is a shortened season, but it's half of a season nonetheless. The previous mark for most games without a regulation loss to start a season, held by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, was 16 games, meaning the Blackhawks' streak, regardless of season length, is 50% longer than the previous record.

To give you an idea of how impressive that is, a comparable mark would be if someone broke Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak by 23 games. Granted, this isn't a perfect parallel. The odds of Chicago's current run place them at happening roughly once every 700 years, whereas DiMaggio's hitting streak probably shouldn't have happened ever. Still, there's no denying the fact that Chicago's current run is one of the more improbable things to occur in recent sports memory.

What might be more absurd about it, however, isn't that it's happened, but the remarkable tightrope the streak has been walking throughout. Of the 24 games the Blackhawks have played, 12 of them were decided by one goal. Over their last 11 games, all of which are victories, the Hawks have made a habit of rallying late for the victory, either taking the lead or tying the game in the closing minutes multiple times. Just last night the Blackhawks came from 2-1 down in the third period before Dan Carcillo, a player more noted for his brutishness than his finesse, became the 13th different Chicago player to score a game-winner when he backhanded the puck past Semyon Varlamov in the final minute.

This was just the latest dramatic moment in an unfathomable stretch that has been full of them. Two games ago the Hawks very nearly saw the streak end against rival Detroit before Patrick Kane forced overtime with just over two minutes left and eventually won the game with a dazzling shootout move. Two days before that Chicago came back to beat Columbus in overtime on a brilliant feed by Jonathan Toews to Brent Seabrook. Before that, Marian Hossa had whacked a game-winner past Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin to beat the Oilers in overtime. Three weeks earlier, in what was easily the most tenuous moment of the stretch, Hossa played hero when he forced overtime in the final seconds in Calgary.

These are all wild, dramatic moments, but the fact that they have all happened during one unbelievable 24-game stretch with no regulation losses is all the wilder. It's often said of talented teams that confidence being contagious a team will enter any given game expecting to win regardless of the situation. Usually that feels like a nugget of truth surrounded by irrational nonsense. Surely a team doesn't simply expect to win and have it magically happen. There's an element of force -- of willing your team to a win through its play that the confidence breeds, but the confidence does not in and of itself beget wins as they're expected.

Not normally anyway.

These Blackhawks are turning that kind of rational analytical thought on its head. Every game, despite the deficit or probability, there always appears to be a wild play or a new hero to carry the team to a win. There's no better example of that than Carcillo, whose 39 career goals in 319 games (and none this season prior to last night) would make him about the least likely candidate for a dramatic game-winner. And yet there he was sliding across the ice on his knees last night doing his best Theo Fleury impression. That's just how it is with this team. Every night the Blackhawks expect to win. Somehow they do.

We shouldn't get too crazy of course. Granted the Blackhawks haven't lost in regulation with half the season gone by, a stunning feat in hockey if there ever was one, but they will probably lose in regulation at some point before the playoffs. But the craziest thing about all of this isn't that the streak is still going or that I'm talking about it ending.

It's that I used the word "probably" in the last paragraph. And I'm not sure I'm right.


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