Streaking: The Amazing Chicago Blackhawks!

After scoring the game-tying goal last night in the Chicago Blackhawks’ eventual win over the Colorado Avalanche, captain Jonathan Toews finished his postgame TV interview and then scampered over to interrupt someone else’s.

Typically, any media attention surrounding Daniel Carcillo means that the Chicago tough guy is in trouble or injured.1 But here things were all good: Carcillo had knocked in the game-winner with less than a minute to play, helping to decisively extend the Blackhawks’ 24-and-counting streak of games without a regulation loss. He had fallen to his knees like Andre Agassi winning Wimbledon, if Andre Agassi had been missing his most prominent teeth. And now, the game over and the United Center emptying out and the microphone held in his face, he was being sneaked up on from behind by Jonathan Toews and receiving a loving tousle of his shaggy wet hair. It was one step away from a noogie.

The camera-bombing was a rare display of abandon from the hard-to-crack Toews, though it was also in keeping with his personality. The 24-year-old often projects the beyond-his-years ethic of an oldest child in a brood of orphans: workmanlike, baby-faced, instinctively protective, no-nonsense, but also given to moments of brotherly humanity. (In this Dickensian universe I’ve constructed, Patrick Kane is the ruffian wild child adept at stealing bread and Joel Quenneville’s facial hair is unchanged.) He’s usually serious, because the situation — the unrelenting grind of a season — is usually serious, too. Although it goes deeper than that. In this great 2010 piece on Toews and Kane as kids, the former’s mother recalls, “Even when he was coloring, he made sure he was not going to go over the lines … We always told him, ‘Just let your hair down. Have fun.'”

Maybe that’s why he seems to understand that the team’s flush times need to be celebrated and embraced, especially when they’ve been so hard-earned. And when he’s scoring shorthanded and serpentine goals like he did against Colorado, he deserves to appreciate them.

“We’re pretty much cheering and almost laughing on the bench,” he told ESPN Chicago. “It’s just fun right now.”

The Blackhawks’ streak is in many ways a perfect one: impressive but not oppressive; noteworthy but low-stakes. It has reached a clear tipping point in sports culture, becoming part of the news-news and not just the hockey news, getting roped into meaningless but lucrative debates like “Which streak is more impressive: the Blackhawks’ or the Miami Heat’s?” Even LeBron James has taken note; the other night he tweeted, “Hey Chicago Blackhawks, u guys are AWESOME!! #streaking.” (The best were the responses from Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. I would pay large sums of money to hear their inner monologues while constructing their replies. “Should I call him ‘bud’ or ‘man’?”) One radio show even featured Wayne Gretzky trying to rope Michael Jordan into the Blackhawks love-in.

And yet despite all this, there’s nothing too overwhelming about the Blackhawks’ streak right now. It’s not Sidney Crosby in the fall of 2010 trying to score a point every game, or an NFL team getting publicly undermined by the 1972 Miami Dolphins at every turn. Not that LeBron James should be considered an expert in hockey just because he touched upon it on Twitter, but still — someone should ask him if he knows what the Blackhawks streak actually is. The Hawks have leeway — had Carcillo not scored last night, they still probably would have extended the run by playing to a regulation tie. The result is that, far from being distracted by the streak, the Hawks have been able to use it to their advantage.

“If we’re down a goal in the third period we can put a lot of pressure on the other team,” Toews said, “and really make them have to really just survive the pressure we put on them.”

That’s a hallmark of all the best teams or athletes — think the New England Patriots in their undefeated season, or Tiger Woods pre–that one Thanksgiving, or even the Blackhawks’ new buddy LeBron James at the moment. Their reputations precede them. Their opponents perceive it to be only a matter of time before they take over a game. Sure, everyone playing them might “get up” for the occasion, but that also makes those opponents more easily rattled.

Carcillo became the 13th different Blackhawks player to earn a game-winning goal this season; there are only eight guys on the entire roster who have so much as dressed for a game without winning it. He’s not the only player to be lifted by his surroundings. Last night’s win improved (backup!) goalie Ray Emery’s record this season to 10-0-0 — the best stretch to start a season by any netminder. Not bad for the once wayward Razor.

A good team is like the clear night sky in which you can see not only the biggest stars butthe makeup of entire constellations. And when you say a team or a person is “streaking,” it sounds almost celestial, and it carries with it the implication not just of brightness but of an ultimate burning away. That’ll happen, sooner or later, for Chicago; already the injuries (Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw) are beginning to pile up. But it’s been lovely to watch while it’s lasted, even if we don’t always know precisely what we’re looking at.

If anything, I’m rooting for the streak to continue just so we can keep around At-Ease Toews. When the guy’s in a good mood, he’s a sneaky crowd-pleaser, as you can see in one of the great press conference exchanges of all time (from a 2011 Blackhawks fan convention). It’s just that even when he’s all loosey-goosey, when he’s having fun and ruffling tops of heads, when he’s laughing in the locker room or delivering his most comic material about Patrick Kane, it’s all still a function of the thing he cares most about: winning hockey.

By: Katie Baker of Grantland.com

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