(MCT) — CHICAGO — When the United Center public-address announcer introduced the No. 1 star after Tuesday night’s historic 4-3 Blackhawks’ shootout victory over the Canucks, Marian Hossa was nowhere on the ice to be found.
He had left the game during the third period after a cheap shot to the back of the head from Canucks forward Jannik Hansen that the NHL justifiably will review. Even if Hossa didn’t have a concussion history thanks to a similarly thuggish hit in last year’s playoffs, the image of an elite player laying facefirst after Hansen’s forearm shiver would have dampened the mood of everybody. At least this time Hossa didn’t need a stretcher to go to the dressing room.
Indeed the Hawks tied an NHL record by earning at least one point in 16 straight games to start the season, but lingering concerns over Hossa made it feel like a bittersweet 16. Coach Joel Quenneville sounded an optimistic tone afterward, but until Hossa returns to action, nobody in Chicago will exhale.
How fitting for the Hawks in a season in which everything has gone their way that they eventually turned their misfortune into an advantage. Quenneville replaced Hossa as the third shootout shooter with Andrew Shaw, whose nifty backhand game-winning goal past Canucks goalie Cory Schneider made the crowd smile again.
“I guess you can get some pretty ones once in a while,” Shaw said. “I heard my name and I was nervous. Scared, actually. But I won’t forget this.”
Just 24 hours earlier, when Patrick Kane was marveling at how cool it felt for the Blackhawks to start the year on such a historic streak, Shaw arched his eyebrows in bemusement.
“Streak? What streak?” he asked.
The kid was serious. Shaw knew how many stitches he received after his first NHL fight but couldn’t tell you how many straight games the Hawks had earned a point. A happy scrapper, Shaw goes through hockey season with his head down and fists clenched.
“I really don’t know,” Shaw said sheepishly.
Kane later made fun of Shaw’s naivete at an Old Town eatery Monday during a WGN-AM 720 appearance. Shaw shared his philosophy about fighting: “Hit him before he hits you,” the 180-pounder said. Kane called his stint in Switzerland a humbling experience and revealed he still hoped to meet LeBron James one day because “(James) wants to prove his critics wrong.”
If Kane and Shaw were coached to downplay the league record, it was the latest example of good coaching. One Hawks official described the ability of players to take the quick start in stride as an example of a “humble swagger,” an apt and catchy phrase that would fit nicely on a T-shirt.
It all reinforced how little anything fazes a team capable of even bigger things this season.
Perspective becomes even harder to achieve now with the Hawks 60 minutes away from making NHL history against the Sharks.
“It’s a special feeling and we plan on making it all ours,” Patrick Sharp said.
The Canucks brought their playoff intensity on a night the Hawks had reason for a letdown.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook sat out with a lower-body injury suffered Sunday that earned Seabrook the sympathy of every male sports fan in Chicago. Backup Ray Emery started his third straight game in place of injured starter Corey Crawford. Isn’t giving up a two-goal lead in a 93-second span late in the third period a symptom of a mentally tired goalie?
The first period caused everybody to check their calendars. It said February but looked like May. Hockey’s fiercest rivalry delivered when Hawks tough guy Brandon Bollig outslugged Canucks winger Dale Weise after Weise leveled teammate Marcus Kruger. Bollig reflexively springing to defense of Kruger reflected the edgy mentality the Hawks have adopted this season. You saw the same sense of valor when Jonathan Toews, already in a bad mood after getting cross-checked into the post by Keith Ballard, jumped Hansen after Hansen’s punk hit on Hossa.
It was that kind of game in a potential Western Conference finals preview. From the time the puck dropped, the pace was as fast and physical as advertised.
Two of the three breakaways the Hawks had in the first 20 minutes came off their efficient penalty-killing unit. Schneider thwarted them all, including Hossa’s.
That made Hossa’s second-period flurry all the more poetic. Hossa had yet to score on home ice this season. His drought ended when he sent a laser past Schneider at the 13-minute, 48-second mark of the second period. Just 3:27 later, Hossa beat Schneider again with a sweet backhand.
If the Blackhawks stars keep playing like stars, more history awaits. But as they celebrated that reality Tuesday night, getting healthy was a higher priority.