ST. PAUL, Minn. – Bring on the Detroit Red Wings and the Winter Classic.
Dustin Byfuglien led Chicago to its franchise-record ninth straight victory, scoring two goals and adding an assist in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 decision over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.
Chicago, set to play Detroit in a home-and-home series, broke the team record of eight straight victories set in December 1971 and matched in January 1981. With the nine-game streak, the Blackhawks tied San Jose for the longest run of the season.
“We’re kind of feeling like the Boston Celtics,” centre Jonathan Toews said.
The defending NBA champion Celtics had a 19-game winning streak snapped Thursday.
“There’s just a sense of calmness,” Toews said. “I think any other team would be excited to be in this situation, and sometimes when you have that momentum you get a little overexcited. We just need to keep our sticks on the ice and keep it simple. We don’t overskate or overdo anything out there.”
Martin Havlat and Kris Versteeg also scored, and Cristobal Huet made 18 saves, allowing only Cal Clutterbuck’s third-period goal.
Minnesota has lost seven of 10.
“Nine wins in a row shows something about their team. But they aren’t that good,” Wild centre Mikko Koivu said. “They outworked us tonight. We had one guy tonight, that was (goalie Niklas) Backstrom, who had the effort to play this game.
“If that’s not going to change there is something wrong inside of the team and in every player in this room.”
Chicago trails Detroit by four points in the Central Division with two games in hand. They will play Tuesday night in Detroit and Thursday in Chicago in the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. Detroit handed Chicago its last loss – 5-4 in a shootout Dec. 6.
“We’re excited about this game coming up. There’s going to be a lot of talk, but that’s nothing new,” Toews said. “Everyone’s talking about the game on Jan. 1, but we’re keeping focused on every upcoming game as if it’s the biggest game of the season. We’re not worried about what’s being said off the ice, we just need to keep playing the way we are.”
For the second straight game, Chicago charged to an early two-goal lead.
Byfuglien scored off a scramble seven minutes in, then tipped Duncan Keith’s slap shot past Backstrom for a power-play goal 2 1/2 minutes later. Chicago held an 11-2 shots advantage at that point, and outshot Minnesota 32-19 overall.
The Blackhawks led 2-0 less than three minutes into their 5-1 home victory over Philadelphia on Friday night, a game in which Chicago held a 22-shot edge.
“We’re just going out there trying to win our battles every period, and looking forward to the next one,” Byfuglien said.
Havlat scored the lone second-period goal, taking a feed from Brian Campbell and slipping it between Backstrom and the post. Versteeg scored an empty-netter with 2.6 seconds left. Chicago is averaging 4.44 goals during its winning streak.
As smooth as Chicago was offensively with its skating and tape-to-tape passes, its defence continued to be equally adept. The Blackhawks have allowed an average of 1.33 goals in the winning streak.
Huet, 6-0-1 in his last seven starts, never had to make a big save, until James Sheppard was stopped on the doorstep late in the game. Rebounds were few because Chicago defenders rarely let Wild attackers get anywhere close to the crease.
“Our forwards are doing such a great job coming back in the middle of the ice, and our defence are trying to stand up at the blue line with good sticks,” defenceman Brent Seabrook said.
Clutterbuck scored early in the third, taking a pass from Stephane Veilleux in the neutral zone, skating in behind the Chicago defence and beating Huet with a high wrist shot from the left circle.
The goal came after the normally supportive Wild crowd booed the home team off the ice more loudly after the second period than it did following the first.
“Yeah, it was deserved,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “We have to play better. There’s no doubt we have to skate more, we have to be better with the puck. The fans want to see a good game, want to see guys working as hard as they can, and when they don’t see it they let the guys know.”
Notes: Byfuglien hadn’t scored in five games since a two-goal performance Dec. 12 against Colorado. … Minnesota has allowed the first goal in 10 straight games, going 2-7-1 in that stretch. … Chicago is 9-1-0 against the Northwest Division. Its lone loss was Oct. 27 in Minnesota. … After playing four straight games, Minnesota RW Marian Gaborik was kept out of the lineup, and is not expected to play Monday in Calgary. The team continues to ease Gaborik back into the lineup after a lower body injury sidelined him for 27 games.