CHICAGO – The shot was low and hard, and cemented the Blackhawks’ spot in the history books.
When Brandon Saad rifled the puck past goaltender Antti Niemi early in the third period Friday night at the United Center, the rookie propelled the Hawks to a 2-1 victory over the Sharks and continued a streak for the ages.
Viktor Stalberg also scored, and Ray Emery was impressive in goal again as the Hawks finished their 17th consecutive game to start the season without a regulation loss, the longest such streak in league history.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Stalberg, who scored late in the second period to pull the Hawks into a 1-1 tie and energize the crowd of 21,670. “We’ve had a great run here. [This] maybe wasn’t our best game, but we’re finding a way to win.
“We want to keep this going and see how far we can take this. It’s kind of crazy to think you’re not going to lose a game in regulation for the first 17 games. It’s a cool thing to be a part of.”
The Hawks also pulled into a tie for third in NHL history for longest overall points streak at 23 games over parts of two seasons – matching the 1975-76 Flyers and 1940-41 Bruins.
Emery made 26 saves, allowing only a late first-period goal to Patrick Marleau as he out-dueled Niemi. The Hawks moved to 14-0-3 overall and 6-0-1 at home this season and continued their assault on the Western Conference standings with their 31st point of a possible 34.
“Our group has had a great year so far so we don’t expect anything less,” Saad said.
After a sluggish first period for both teams, Marleau put the Sharks ahead with his 11th goal of the season as the clock ticked down. After a Joe Thornton shot, Marleau batted at the rebound and the puck trickled under Emery’s pad and across the line.
Late in the second, Stalberg awakened a subdued crowd with his fourth goal of the season. The winger had been without a point in five consecutive games, but found the scoresheet when he banked a shot from behind the goal line off Niemi and into the net.
The Sharks entered the third period on the power play, but it was the Hawks who cashed in when Saad notched this third goal of the season. The rookie winger rifled a shot from the left circle that sailed past Niemi to the glove side. It was the Hawks’ first short-handed score of the season, and gave them life as they marched toward history.
“It was a huge goal for us,” Saad said. “I just took him wide and tried to get a shot off and luckily I beat him.”
After that, the defense tightened and Emery turned aside whatever offense the Sharks could manage.
“It’s special to do something as a group,” said Emery, who improved to 7-0-0 with a .930 save percentage this season. “The start of the year is the worst time to do it I think, you’d rather do it at the end but it’s great in a short year to get off to a good start and we couldn’t ask for more. At the same time, we can’t be complacent.”
The only negative on a night when the Hawks had Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Daniel Carcillo back in the lineup after missing time with injuries, was Dave Bolland suffering an upper-body injury in the second period and not returning to the game. Coach Joel Quenneville said the center was “day-to-day.”
Otherwise, it was all smiles in the Hawks dressing room for team that will look to extend the streak to 18 games Sunday night when it faces the Blue Jackets at the United Center.
“The guys should be proud of the achievement and the accomplishment,” Quenneville said. “I just think that we shouldn’t be happy with where we’re at. We just want to keep trying to get better.
“I like the demeanor and the approach and just looking forward to the next game, trying to make a contribution to your linemates or your defense partner or your fellow goalie. It has been a nice environment for the guys and they keep pushing one another.”