After Lockout, Chicago Team Has Best Season Start In NHL History
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's been an interesting year for National Hockey League fans. First of all, of course, the season was cut short after a long lockout, but now, in Chicago the Blackhawks are making up for lost time. They hold the record for the best start in NHL history. Last night, the Blackhawks faced off against the Edmonton Oilers and reporter Lauren Chooljian was there to see if Chicago's team could extend its streak.
LAUREN CHOOLJIAN, BYLINE: Even though there are thousands of fans swarming the United Center here, you can't miss Vanessa Dorn(ph). In addition to her hockey jersey, she's decked out in Blackhawk-themed items that you probably didn't even know existed, like a plush hat in the shape of the Blackhawk's mascot, Tommyhawk.
VANESSA DORN: It's a nice soft one and it's got, like, legs hanging down over the ears to cover your ears and it's got Blackhawks sketched on it.
CHOOLJIAN: And tucked under those hawk legs she's sporting long, dangling Blackhawks shaped feather earrings. Dorn has been a fan for more than 40 years. So this season when a messy labor dispute led to a month's long lockout, she felt strange.
DORN: It was an empty hole.
DORN: I felt so bad. I have children. I have adult children, a family; I have a very full life. But, yeah, it was just, something was missing.
CHOOLJIAN: But now the Blackhawks are back and in a big way. The team hasn't lost a game in regulation all season. So now it's just a question of how long they can keep the streak alive.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND CHEERING)
CHOOLJIAN: We're now up in the nosebleed section for the first period. The Oilers are up one to nothing and Chicagoan Joe Boo(ph) is already pacing back and forth.
Do you get nervous when you watch?
JOE BOO: No, I just get into it.
CHOOLJIAN: It's hard to believe he's not nervous.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
BOO: Oh, my goodness.
CHOOLJIAN: It's only Monday night but, like Joe, thousands of people are swaying and cheering as if it were a Saturday night playoff game. And when the Blackhawks score, the madhouse on Madison shakes.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD SINGING BLACKHAWKS' THEME SONG)
CHOOLJIAN: And the excitement is happening in living rooms and bars all across the Chicago area. Comcast SportsNet, which airs the Blackhawks' games, has seen its top five best ratings ever just this year for regular season games. And four of those broadcasts were in the past seven days.
Pat Boyle is the Blackhawks' studio host and he says he wasn't sure at first how fans were going to react after the lockout.
PAT BOYLE: What I think happened was it created, with the schedule 48 games in 99 days, every game means a lot more. And so, to start your season right at the tail end of the NFL season, have every game count and then get off to this record start - it was the perfect storm.
CHOOLJIAN: Boyle says there are a few reasons the team is this good this time around. First, there's been great goaltending. And a lot of the guys from the Stanley Cup-winning 2010 team are still around.
BOO: He's there.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
BOO: Oh, my goodness.
CHOOLJIAN: Back in the arena, it's the end of the third period. Blackhawk Viktor Stalberg tied the game 2-to-2 with an early goal. And as the seconds in regulation time tick down to zero, everyone in the arena knows the game is going into overtime.
CHOOLJIAN: And for Blackhawks fans that means the streak is extended, since they didn't lose in regulation.
Joe Boo's reaction is a little more subdued than some others here but for a good reason.
BOO: True fans aren't just here for the streak. We're here because we love the Chicago Blackhawks and we just support our team.
CHOOLJIAN: Boo is here for the win. And lucky for him, he gets it. One forty-four into overtime, Marian Hossa knocks one in and the Blackhawks take it 3-to-2.
But there's one part of the Blackhawk's streak that it's safe to say is in the back of every fan's mind: The last team to hold this record was the Anaheim Ducks in 2006 and they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Chooljian in Chicago.
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