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Opponents lining up to end Blackhawks’ streak

(MCT) — CHICAGO — The season after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, it was like the numbers on their sweaters had been replaced with targets as every team ramped up its game to take its best shot at knocking off the defending champs.

After the Hawks soared through the first 19 games of this season without a regulation loss, the target has returned. About the only thing missing is a carnival barker shouting, “Step right up and try to be the first team to knock off the Hawks!”

“You can feel it,” winger Marian Hossa said. “Every team is ready for us as they try to stop this team and try to be the first. It’s getting tougher and tougher. (Teams) check harder and everybody gets prepared for us more and more.”

Now in full preparation mode are the Blues, who get the next crack at the Hawks on Thursday night in St. Louis. The Hawks’ Central Division rivals aren’t exactly hiding the fact they want to take home the prize.

“It would be great,” Blues defenseman Ian Cole said Tuesday in St. Louis. “First and foremost, we have to get two points any way we can. Would we rather go out, dominate them and impose our will on them and show we can be a really elite team like they are? Absolutely.

“But they’re obviously a good team. They’re not going to let us step on the ice and beat the (heck) out of them. It’ll be a little harder than that.”

The Hawks’ assault on the NHL record book has been anything but easy. Thirteen of the 19 games have been decided by one goal, and the Hawks are 10-0-3 in those games.

“It feels like every game has been a tough game this year,” winger Patrick Sharp said. “Every night we’re getting the opponent’s best effort. Credit us to find a way to win.”

Dating to last season, the Hawks have gone 25 consecutive games without a regulation loss, third-best in NHL history. They are three away from tying the 1977-78 Canadiens and 10 from matching the 1979-80 Flyers.

While their numbers are gaudy, the Hawks believe they can reach another level.

“We can play better for sure,” winger Patrick Kane said. “Although we’ve had contributions from pretty much everyone, it would be nice to get a little bit more consistency throughout the lineup.”

Kane then chuckled and added: “But you can’t really complain about much right now. It’s been a fun ride, and everyone’s playing great.”

The streak has captured the attention of the hockey world and put the Hawks in a terrific position for the postseason — they hold an eight-point lead over the second-place Ducks in the Western Conference — but they know it will mean little once the playoffs begin.

Still, the run of close games — and wins — is a good learning tool for late-season play.

“There are never easy games the last part of the year and then definitely the playoffs,” Sharp said. “The year we won in 2010, every series was close — that’s the way hockey is. You have to find a way to win those tight games, and the more we can do it now, hopefully the better it pays off down the road.”

The next chance to find a way is against a Blues team intent on putting a halt to history.

“Winning is a feeling,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters. “When you have the right feeling going, you win all the close games. You get the goal at the end, you win in overtime (and) you win in the shootouts.

“(The Hawks) have the feeling going right now, and somebody is going to have to break the feeling. It might as well be us.”

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