To the best of our knowledge, it was not a sign of the apocalypse. There were no clear indications that the Earth had begun rotating backward on its axis. The Zambonis at the United Center didn’t take flight, nor did the crowd seem to suddenly shift into a parallel dimension.
Still, the Blackhawks scored first Wednesday. And then — because scoring before the other team for the first time in 12 long, miserable games wasn’t enough — they scored again. It was strange, it was shocking and it was, in its own little way, a very big deal.
Let the record show that Hawks 2, Penguins 1 was merely the score at the end of the first period. For a team that had trailed 1-0 in 11 straight games and 2-0 in 10 of the last 11 — in each of those cases, before the 20-minute mark — it was an extraordinary and most welcome change.
The final count of Hawks 6, Pens 3 sure was a sight for sore eyes, too. Hey, somebody in the NHL had to be last to 10 wins.
“It’s been a while since we’ve scored first in a game,” said Andreas Martinsen who did the honors — generously speaking — not quite six minutes in. “We’ve been talking a lot about having good starts, and we finally got one. And then we just kept going.”
In their imaginations, one can only assume the Hawks conjured a thing of beauty when it came to the tally that at last would end this maddening streak of sorry starts. Or at least something more along the lines of the Brent Seabrook rocket from high in the crease that made it 2-0.
Instead, they saw a shot by defenseman Carl Dahlstrom — called up from the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford earlier in the day — ricochet off Martinsen’s ribs in front of the goal. From there, the puck skittered across the burly forward’s back and somehow fell beyond goalie Casey DeSmith and into the net.
The scoreboard read 1-0 — and it wasn’t a mirage.
It was Martinsen’s first goal of the season, but hardly the least dazzling of his career.
“No, I scored one off my groin,” he said. “That was my first NHL goal.”
And the real beauty on this night: While the Pens (13-11-6) got a hat trick from winger Bryan Rust, the Hawks (10-18-5) were able to revel in six goals by six different players. Alex DeBrincat, Marcus Kruger and — with the Pens’ net empty — Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad got in on the action, too.
“It’s good for our team,” Toews said. “We’ve got to use that confidence now. We’re putting all that in the rearview mirror, and let this snowball in the right direction now.”
“All that” meaning bad starts, bad results, bad everything else.
The previous time the Hawks and Pens met at the UC, it was the 2017-18 season opener and the home team eked out a 10-1 victory. Now the Hawks’ hard-to-believe win streak over Pittsburgh — dating back nearly four years — is at nine. For whatever reasons, the head-to-head matchups between the winners of five of the last nine Stanley Cups have been completely one-sided.
So, it was the unstoppable force of that trend vs. the immovable object that has been the Hawks’ all-but-lost season. The last-place Hawks came in having lost their last eight games amid a larger, barely comprehensible slide of 19 defeats (overtimes included) in 22 games.
Score one for the unstoppable force, though it was just a humble beginning for this team.
“Hopefully, it released some tension in the guys and they can play a little freer, because we’ve had some good moments,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “But you can see how tight they are. It’s hard to play under those circumstances. Hopefully, we can use it as a little springboard.”