Philadelphia, PA – ESPN has been fairly criticized for largely ignoring hockey since it stopped broadcasting NHL games a decade ago. Lately, however, even the "Worldwide Leader" has been forced to take note of the Chicago Blackhawks.
With a record-setting start to the shortened season, the Blackhawks have been the talk of the NHL for weeks and the chatter has finally made it to ESPN's airwaves.
Of course, since we're talking about the people who came up with "The Decision," the Blackhawks' streak is primarily being talked about in terms ESPN can understand. Naturally, that means LeBron James and the NBA's Miami Heat are involved.
It just so happens that the Heat are on an epic streak of their own and comparing them to the Blackhawks makes sense to someone in Bristol, Conn. But, I guess beggars can't be choosers, so if these are the circumstances that lead to hockey being discussed on "SportsCenter" for more than a few seconds at a time, then so be it.
However, as hockey fans have shown in recent years, they don't need ESPN's permission to be passionate about the NHL and this Blackhawks' streak certainly has the masses buzzing. After all, Chicago has completed half its schedule without suffering a regulation loss and a run like that is more than enough to capture the imagination of the hockey-loving public.
With a 21-0-3 start to the season, the Blackhawks have managed to pick up 45 out of a possible 48 points through the first 24 tests of this 48-game season. As good as they were to start the season, they've been even better lately, winning 11 straight to set a new franchise record.
Chicago's most recent victory on Wednesday showed us why the team is so hard to finish off. The Blackhawks trailed Colorado by a 2-1 count heading into the third period, only to score the only two goals of the final 20 minutes. Tough guy Daniel Carcillo played the unlikely hero, scoring with 50 seconds left in regulation to deliver the 3-2 win.
As the streak grows, however, so has the controversy surrounding its place in hockey history. The NHL's change from using ties to overtime losses in the standings is at the heart of this debate, but so is the question of whether Chicago's point streak from the end of the 2011-12 regular season should count toward the current one.
The Blackhawks went 3-0-3 to end last season's schedule before bowing out to Phoenix in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. That's significant because if one was to count the run from last year's regular season, then Chicago's current point streak would be at 30 games, five shy of the NHL record set by the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, who went 25-0-10 during its famous streak.
No less than Bobby Clarke, a Hockey Hall of Famer and Flyers' captain during the 35-game tear, has weighed in on the debate. Although Clarke was mostly complimentary toward the Blackhawks in his recent comments to NHL.com, he left no doubt as to what he thought of adding last season's run to the current one.
"They can't use last year's games, that's foolishness," Clarke said Wednesday. "Can Sidney Crosby go back and take the points he got in the last 10 games and add them to this year and add them to the scoring race? Can the Flyers add their point total from the last 10 games and add them to this year, so they can get a playoff spot? It's legitimate if they do it in one season. It's not legitimate if they use two-season totals."
The NHL, which only lists in-season streaks in its annual Guide and Record book, hasn't been interested in clarifying this debate with an official ruling, and it shouldn't be. It's a fun argument to have, why ruin it by inserting itself into this debate?
Then there's the other debate surrounding the Blackhawks. That's the one that centers around how this streak plays into Chicago's chances of winning its second Stanley Cup in four seasons later this year. It's a legitimate question considering the 1979-80 Flyers came up short in that season's Stanley Cup Finals, albeit, with some help from linesman Leon Stickle, a name that still sends shivers down the spines of the Philadelphia sports fan.
Obviously, a team that's played as well as Chicago has this season has to be at or at least near the top of everyone's 2013 Cup contenders. But, that doesn't mean it should make them prohibitive favorites to win it all. Even in a shortened season like this one, it will be hard for the Blackhawks to carry this momentum all the way into June and there's a good chance the team could use up its mojo by the time the playoffs roll around.
Then again, it'd be pretty silly to bet on any other team to lift Lord Stanley's Cup this year, wouldn't it?