The shot was low and hard and cemented the Blackhawks’ spot in the history books.
When Brandon Saad rifled the puck past goaltender Antti Niemi early in the third period Friday night at the United Center, the rookie propelled the Hawks to a 2-1 victory over the Sharks.
Viktor Stalberg also scored and Ray Emery earned another impressive win goal as the Hawks recorded their 17th consecutive contest to start the 2013 season without a regulation loss, the longest in league history.
The Hawks also pulled into a tie for third in NHL history for longest overall points streak at 23 games over parts of two seasons—matching the 1975-76 Flyers and ’40-41 Bruins.
Emery made 26 saves, allowing only a late first-period goal to Patrick Marleau as he out-dueled Niemi. The Hawks moved to 14-0-3 overall and 6-0-1 at home this season and continued their assault on the Western Conference standings with their 31st point of a possible 34.
Emery was tested early and dodged a bullet when Ryane Clowe couldn’t get a stick on puck in front with open goal and seconds later watched as Logan Couture fired wide at a gaping net.
After scrambling in their own zone early on, the Hawks found their footing and started putting pressure on Niemi. The former Hawks goalie’s biggest save early was when he stoned Marian Hossa from just inside the left circle off a rebound.
With the clock winding down in the opening period, Marleau put the Hawks ahead with his 11th goal of the season. After a Joe Thornton shot, Marleau batted at the rebound and the puck trickled under Emery’s pad and across the line.
Late in the second, Stalberg awakened a subdued crowd with his fourth goal of the season. The winger had been without a point in five consecutive games but found the scoresheet when he banked a shot from behind the goal line off Niemi and into the net.
The Sharks entered the third period on the power play but it was the Hawks who cashed in when Saad notched this third goal of the season. The rookie winger rifled a shot from the left circle that sailed past Niemi to the glove side. It was the Hawks’ first short-handed score of the season and gave them life as they marched toward history.
After that, Emery and the defense tightened and it was a piece of history for the Hawks.
By Chris Kuc, Tribune reporter