CHICAGO - The so-called Madhouse on Madison Street may soon have to be renamed the Miracle on Madison Street.
In a Sunday night battle between the NHL's best and worst teams, the Chicago Blackhawks once again showed they're not about to get their first loss in regulation time this season anytime soon. Center Andrew Shaw's goal late in the second period held up for the deciding tally as the Blackhawks shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 at the United Center.
"For any team that comes in here, especially in this arena, it's a tough place to play and they're making it even harder," said losing Columbus goalie Steve Mason.
Behind 21,580 fans, its 198th consecutive home sellout, Chicago improved to 15-0-3, by far the best record in the league.
To put the Blackhawks' record-setting season start (at least one point in their first 18 games) into perspective, they have gone through more than one-third of the lockout-shortened 48-game season without a loss in regulation time.
Despite remaining the league's worst team at 5-12-2, Columbus gave a surprisingly strong effort Sunday night, giving the Blackhawks one of their toughest battles of the season thus far.
"I would expect the opponents to be excited about coming into this building, regardless of where we're at," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I just think that there's no easy games. If you think you're going to get an easy game, you're not going to get through it."
The Hawks also continue to lead the NHL with a league-low 32 goals allowed to opponents in the first 18 games of the season.
While they were outshot by Columbus 28-27, the Blackhawks' defense continually stopped Blue Jacket power-play opportunities.
"We played a good game, we just didn't capitalize on our power play," Columbus center Derick Brassard said. "Our power play was not good enough tonight.
"When you have six or seven chances like that and you lose a game 1-0, it was obviously not good enough. The execution was not good. We knew they're a pretty good team; they haven't lost yet. We were ready from the start and, like I said, our goalie played well, but it was not good enough."
But give props where they're due. For a team that came into Sunday night's game with the league's worst record, Columbus played surprisingly stingy defense, keeping Chicago from scoring on several opportunities, particularly on the Hawks' strength, the power-play.
The brunt of the credit goes to Mason, who turned back the first 19 Chicago shots in the first two periods before Shaw (fourth goal of the season) found an opening past Mason at 18:33 of the second period to put the Blackhawks ahead 1-0.
"Our goalies, for the most part this year, have given us a chance in every game," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "You look at this road trip that we're on ... six games, other than the Phoenix game which was an empty-net goal, they were all one-goal games. We're giving up maybe two goals a game, maybe three goals a game, but we can't generate anything and we can't finish right now in the offensive zone."
The win marked the return to the Blackhawks lineup of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, who had missed the last four games with an upper body injury.
"It was pretty exciting to get back into it," Crawford said. "It seems like things haven't changed. Everyone's playing hard, making the right plays, not turning pucks over and guys are coming back to help out our 'D.' Our 'D' has been so good this year in blocking shots, sticks in lanes. It's just another solid victory for us.
"I felt good out there; I was seeing the puck well. But like I said, everyone is doing their job and everyone's chipping in so it makes it a lot easier for me."
Even though he appeared to still be slightly favoring the injury, Crawford's return to the lineup was noteworthy as he tallied his seventh career shutout and the second (in his last three starts) of this season.
"(Crawford) was good tonight. He was quick, especially on the side-to-side plays on the power play," Quenneville said. "I thought he tracked the puck extremely well. It looked like he wasn't off for any time at all. He had a couple extra days there and got ready. I like the way he prepared today and a great response."
If there was a bit of concern in the game, it's that Chicago did appear a bit sluggish and tired, not playing with their typical spark. The Blackhawks started Friday's game against San Jose in the same fashion, but were able to bounce back and regain momentum later in that game.
Against the Blue Jackets, however, the Blackhawks appeared listless at times, which was readily apparent against a team like Columbus, which has hadn't had many strong games thus far this season.
Columbus caught the lackadaisical virus in the third period, it appears, as well.
"Up until the third period, I thought our power play generated some chances," Richards said. "We didn't have any success in the third period. Attribute a lot of that to fatigue and not being sharp. That's where we needed to be sharp in our execution and we weren't."
Still, in the end, Chicago kept its winning streak going -- and doesn't appear ready to let it end anytime soon.
NOTES: After doing a phenomenal job in goal in place of the injured Crawford, winning the Hawks' previous four games and compiling a career-best 7-0-0 mark to start a season, Ray Emery received a much deserved rest Sunday. Even with Crawford's exceptional job in Sunday's game, look for Emery to be back in goal on Monday as the Hawks conclude their season-long, seven-game homestand against Edmonton. The Hawks play at St. Louis on Thursday before returning Friday to host the Blue Jackets for the second time in a week and the third and final time during the regular season (Chicago beat Columbus 3-2 on Jan. 26). ... Columbus winger Jared Boll leads the league in a dubious category, fighting majors (seven). ... The Blue Jackets return home to host Dallas on Tuesday before returning to Chicago on Friday. After that game, Columbus will play nine of its next 10 games at home.