CHICAGO –- The puck left Ryan Kesler's stick at a high rate of speed, but it nestled into the catching glove of goalie Ray Emery and just like that, the Chicago Blackhawks had themselves another victory.
The Blackhawks also tied a National Hockey League record with a thrilling 4-3 shootout win Tuesday night against the rival Vancouver Canucks inside a raucous United Center –- upping their streak to 16 consecutive games to start the season with at least a point.
That matches the mark set by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks -– who went on to win the Stanley Cup -– and gives Chicago (13-0-3) a chance to move into the top spot alone at home on Friday night against the San Jose Sharks -– a team the Blackhawks have already beaten twice.
"It's a remarkable start," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're very happy and pleased. Guys should be proud of the achievement and where they're at … especially in a 48-game season. It's put us in a real good spot."
It wasn't all good news. Early in the third period, with Chicago leading 3-1, Blackhawks star forward Marian Hossa dropped to the ice following a collision with Vancouver's Jannik Hansen near the benches.
After lying motionless, face down on the ice for a few minutes, Hossa got to his feet and headed straight to the locker room. Quenneville said the team would know more on Wednesday, but the Blackhawks don't have practice and public updates are likely to be put on hold until Thursday.
Quenneville also said that, to his knowledge, Hossa hadn't been taken to a hospital for observation. Hansen, meanwhile, said he and Hossa were both jumping for a puck that kicked into the air above them.
"We were both jumping for it," Hansen said. "Again, he grabs the puck first and then, as I'm coming down I land on him a little bit. Apparently I hit him in the back of the head, (that's) what the ref is telling me once I [came] down. It's a hockey play and we bumped together a little hard and he goes down. I can't really do anything about that. We both go for the puck and we ran into each other."
Hossa also got knocked out of a playoff series last spring against the Phoenix Coyotes after an illegal hit delivered by Raffi Torres by the benches. It was a similar sight again, only this time Hossa didn't need a stretcher.
"Obviously, we know he got hit last year," Hansen said. "I think everybody in the hockey world knows that, but again, it's a hockey play and when you go for a puck you go for a puck."
Prior to the incident – which drew a roughing minor for Hansen – Hossa was having a big game.
He'd just scored back-to-back goals in the second period to give the Blackhawks a commanding 3-1 lead starting the third. Patrick Sharp also scored his second goal in as many games during the second to knot it 1-1 just 6:36 into the period – after Daniel Sedin's goal put the Canucks (8-3-4) up 1-0 at 13:34 of the first.
Hossa earned the game's first star honors and his teammates placed their player-awarded "heavyweight belt" in front of his locker. His first goal came off a hard slapper during a power play to beat Cory Schneider and give Chicago its first lead 13:48 into the second, but his second tally will be the one that's replayed on the highlights.
After winning a puck battle with Alexandre Burrows along the half wall, Hossa carried the puck below the goal line behind the Canucks' net, stickhandled it while weaving through the crease, slipped a short pass ahead to himself and then tapped it home backhanded off Schneider's skate blade inside the post.
"[Hossa] was having a great game," Quenneville said. "Nice to see him finish … none better than the second one he scored. He took it to the net in a tight area and finished it. I'd say it's a situation where hopefully he's going to be okay."
Thanks to goals late in regulation by Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa that tied it 3-3 with 1:01 left before the third ended, Quenneville found himself with another Hossa-related situation to mull after overtime expired with no goals.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane took their usual turns as the first and second shootout options, but Quenneville had originally planned to go with Hossa as the third shooter. Instead, he picked Andrew Shaw -– who beat Schneider with a pretty backhand deke despite some admitted nervous tension.
Shaw usually scores "dirty" goals off loose pucks around the net, but this one was all skill. It was also his first successful attempt on his third try in the NHL.
"I guess you can get some pretty ones once in a while," Shaw said. "A blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, too. I was nervous, scared actually. It's a big part of the game and I've done that move a few times in practice. They liked what they saw, so they gave me a shot."
Kane and Vancouver's Chris Higgins also scored in the shootout, with Kane's goal needing a video review from Toronto to determine that Schneider actually knocked it between his own pads with his glove. After Shaw scored, Kesler zipped a wrist shot on Vancouver's next attempt that was picked out of mid-air by Emery (29 saves) to end the game.
It was just as exciting at the start of the contest, with a first period that featured five combined breakaways and no goals scored on any of them. Daniel Sedin's fifth marker of the season, scored 13:34 into the first, was the lone tally of the opening period.
He shoveled it backhanded through the five hole against Emery from the right circle – and did it just 30 seconds after the Blackhawks goalie made an outstanding pad save against him on a breakaway shot directed toward the same target area.
Schneider (40 saves) came up with big stops against breaks by Hossa, Sharp and Dave Bolland, while Emery made two against Daniel Sedin –- including the one just prior to his goal.
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