For the first six weeks of the season, the Chicago Blackhawks were the “franchise that brought Hockey back”. Their streak of unbeaten games to start the season gave the NHL a story line it desperately needed, and helped bring casual fans back to a game that was flatlining on the operating room table.
During the course of their streak, three teams were able to take them to overtime and eventually edge them out in a shootout. One team did it in the United Center, handing the home team its first home loss of the season. This same team meanwhile, was quietly skating circles around its opponents and building up a substantial lead in a division which was supposed to be dominated by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
Eventually, the Hawks streak came to an end a mile up in the air at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Two nights later back at home, the malaise continued and suddenly a new streak was born.
The following morning, Hawks fans woke up to the painful realization that despite the amazing run the team had put together to start the season, the Anaheim Ducks had somehow managed to position themselves within five points of the conference lead with two games in hand!
Thus as we fast forward to the match up tonight at “the Pond”. Anaheim has won 12 straight home games and is 8-0-3 in its last 11. They’ve just resigned Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to big money extensions and with Hawks Wingers Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp banged up with injuries, all signs point to a power shift in the Western Conference.
But hold on a second.
Since the Hawks two-game skid, they’ve won their last three games — on the road — and outscored opponents 14-4 in non-shootout goals.
So what happens tonight? The Hawks are due some payback for Anaheim popping their cherry at home; meanwhile, the Ducks can’t be pleased to have seen their record streak of unbeaten games to start a season shattered by Chicago.
Brad Staubitz and Bryan Bickell have unfinished business to attend to after Staubitz picked up a game misconduct for fighting in the last game and with 14 penalties whistled overall in their last meeting, this game has the chance to get testy.
Plus the Hawks need this game. They lead Anaheim in numerous statistical categories, and yet they spent the entire streak listening to Eastern Conference fans whine about scheduling and griping from fans out west claiming that Anaheim and the surging Kings were being overshadowed by an over-rated and soft group.
Finishing off a perfect four game road trip by beating the Ducks would put the crown firmly back on the team’s head heading home to rest up for four days before the defending champs come back to town.
Both teams know how good the other the other one is, and that the road to the Cup goes through one of their houses. Whether opposing teams will be attempting to swim through “the Pond” along that road or run through “the Madhouse on Madison” could be decided tonight.