Chicago franchise have dominated game at a time when salary caps mean dynastic clubs are a thing of the past, writes Gregg Patton
Talent and good fortune were an impressive combination. But the Chicago Blackhawks' streak could not last forever.
It was the Colorado Avalanche who finally exploited the serendipity of the whole thing with an emphatic 6-2 victory.
After reaching the precise halfway point of the NHL's lockout-shortened season without losing a game in regulation, the Hawks 24-game points run ended in Colorado on Friday.
"Everyone contributed to something that hadn't been done," Joel Quenneville, the Chicago coach, said of the streak in his post-game remarks. "It gained a little momentum. Our opponents treated [each one] like it was a meaningful game."
It was a record run to start any season, beating by eight games the 2006/07 Anaheim Ducks' mark. Chicago also had a 30-game regular-season streak dating back to last spring.
"It was great, it was talked about a lot, and it should have been," the goalie Corey Crawford said.
If the Blackhawks fell short of the 1979/80 Philadelphia Flyers, who ran up a record 35-game streak in which they either won or tied a game, Chicago surely must know how improbable their run had been.
The Flyers record-setters played when dominance was routine. Philadelphia topped a record that had been set just two years before, when the Montreal Canadiens had strung together 28 consecutive wins and ties.
Current NHL teams deal with a multitude of streak-hampering barriers. Parity is a reality, thanks to a salary cap and loosened free-agency rules that limit teams from building dynastic clubs. In this compressed season, in particular, each team will have abnormally high numbers of games over short periods of times, straining their powers of recuperation.
Most of all, hockey is a sport of funny bounces and unforeseen ricochets. The most improbable thing about Chicago's streak was that a bounce or ricochet did not cost them a game in regulation.
Of the Hawks' 21 victories, seven were achieved in overtime or in a shoot-out, and five more came by one goal in regulation. "When we found ourselves in tight [games], we found a way to win," said the forward Jonathan Toews.
On Friday, it was as if some of the odds corrected themselves. The Avalanche broke a 1-1 tie with four consecutive goals in the second period and crushed the best team in the league.
If the streak was a publicity gift for the NHL, coming off its lockout, it quickly will be just a memory for the Hawks.
"It's a pretty cool thing," Toews said. "We'll take confidence from it and go forward from here. We always knew we'd have a lot of work left."