CHICAGO – Introducing the Original Six and O.
The Blackhawks’ season is all of 9 days old, and already it has achieved history. Before Sunday, no group in the 87-year history of the franchise had won each of its first six games.
That changed when Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy ripped a shot past Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard to clinch a 2-1 overtime victory Sunday at the United Center. The Hawks improved to a league-best 6-0-0 with 42 games remaining in a shortened season.
Of course, the Hawks have loftier goals than a fast start.
But they still can embrace the moment. They still can embrace history.
“That’s awesome,” Leddy said when told that the Hawks broke a 41-year-old team record for the best start to a season. “I heard that stat before the game. It’s definitely one of a kind.”
And the Hawks are finding every kind of way to win.
On Sunday, it wasn’t glamorous. It was grueling.
The Hawks were playing for the sixth time in 9 days as part of the NHL’s rapid-fire schedule, and after killing off six penalties in two periods, energy started to fade.
The first sign of the fatigue arrived about halfway through the third period.
Hawks forward Bryan Bickell blew a tire in the offensive zone. He tripped over his skates, stumbled a couple of steps forward, and crash-landed into the goal post so hard that it came off of its moorings.
A referee’s whistle blew, and play stopped while the net was restored to its proper place.
No one saw Bickell’s miscue except for 21,607 fans and dozens of grinning teammates.
“He has a tendency to do some funny things every now and then,” forward Viktor Stalberg said with a laugh. “But that’s the first time I’ve seen a toe-pick-take-the-goal-post-out.”
Stalberg couldn’t stop chuckling at the replay in his head.
“I’m sure we’ll get a highlight reel out of that for tomorrow’s video session,” he said.
These are happy times for the Hawks.
How could they not be?
After the win, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville deflected all praise for the team’s historic start to his players. This wasn’t about line changes or coaching strategy. This was about effort.
“They’re the ones doing it,” Quenneville said.
And they’re doing it so well.
“It’s fun,” Stalberg said. “The most encouraging part is we’re playing good hockey. We’re not just winning fluke games.
“I think we’re playing good all three zones, and we’re getting rewarded for it.”
By the time the Blackhawks return to the United Center for their next home game Feb. 12, Cubs and White Sox pitchers and catchers will have reported to spring training.
Derrick Rose could be on the court for the Bulls.
Who knows? Maybe the Hawks will have a loss by the time they return.
The Wings did not resemble the perennial powerhouse that has compiled a 21-season playoff streak to go along with 11 Stanley Cup titles. Instead, they looked as if someone had kidnapped the Anaheim Ducks and re-dressed them in Detroit’s red and white sweaters.
Everything is lining up well for the Hawks.
A lengthy lockout allowed Marian Hossa to recover fully from a severe concussion that he suffered in April during the playoffs. It allowed Patrick Kane to join a team in Switzerland and return to the NHL with a renewed focus to go along with his dazzling playmaking skills. It allowed Corey Crawford to move past his sophomore slump and reassert his No. 1 status.
Now, a six-game, 10-day road trip will allow the Hawks to bond during card games and “Mario Kart” tournaments and whatever else hockey players do with their spare time.
The road trip will require the Hawks to zigzag across the Western Conference. They’ll travel 333 miles to Minnesota, 1,430 miles to Vancouver, 427 miles to Calgary, 1,030 miles to San Jose, 620 miles to Phoenix and 1,440 miles to Nashville before the 409-mile trip home.
Added up: 5,689 miles.
The playoffs are many, many miles beyond that.
But the Hawks’ first steps of the season have been flawless.
They know the way to the summit. They’ve been there before.
Most wins to start season
NBA – Capitols (1948), Rockets (1993), 15
MLB – Braves (1982), Brewers (1987), 13
NHL – Maple Leafs (1993), Sabres (2006), 10