By ARNIE STAPLETON
DENVER — The best start in NHL history is over. The Chicago Blackhawks finally left the ice without a point — but with their heads held high.
The Blackhawks were stunned 6-2 by the struggling Colorado Avalanche on Friday night. It was their first loss in regulation and ended a remarkable run in which they earned at least one point in their first 24 games, an NHL record.
“We’re proud of it, but it’ll be nice to move on now,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “It’s hockey, we’ve lost games before in our lives. It’s not like we’re going to sit here and cry.”
Instead, they’ll sit back and celebrate, said coach Joel Quenneville, who told his team afterward “that they should be very proud of what they accomplished. They found different ways to win, night in and night out, and everyone contributed to something that hadn’t been done.
“It’s a great feather in our cap, but let’s move forward here and try to get better. Certainly it was a lot of fun up to today.”
The Blackhawks (21-1-3) hadn’t lost in regulation since a 6-1 rout by Nashville on March 25, 2012, and their last loss in regulation on the road came more than a year ago, with a 5-1 defeat at St. Louis on March 6, 2012.
Dating back to last year’s regular season, the streak was 30 games.
Chicago’s overall points streak was the second longest in NHL history. The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers set the league record with a staggering 35-game unbeaten streak that included 25 wins and 10 ties — all in the same season.
Ending it was a jolt of adrenaline for the Avalanche, who started the night in last place in the Northwest Division.
“It’s special, said Matt Duchene, who scored four points. “It’s obviously something no one had done yet. But what a run by them. I mean, first of all, congratulations to them. What a run they had. I don’t think they’re going to slow down because of this. But it’s pretty special. It’s a good feeling in here. We’re pretty happy.”
Ryan O’Reilly got his first goal since his contract dispute was resolved more than a week ago and assisted on another goal in a four-goal onslaught in the second period that turned a 1-1 tie into a laugher, and Paul Stastny collected three points.
Duchene, John Mitchell and Jamie McGinn also put pucks past Corey Crawford in the second period for the Avalanche, who had lost six of their previous seven, including a 3-2 heartbreaker at Chicago 48 hours earlier.
Crawford (11-1-3) allowed five goals on 19 shots before being replaced in net by Ray Emery to start the third period.
“I didn’t have it tonight,” Crawford said. “Didn’t give our guys a chance.”
Semyon Varlamov had 30 saves for Colorado.
The Avalanche nearly ended the spectacular streak in Chicago on Wednesday night before the Blackhawks pulled out the win when Daniel Carcillo scored the tiebreaking goal with 49.3 seconds left. Chicago was skating without three key forwards and playing its second game in two nights then.
There was no such comeback Friday night at the Pepsi Center, where a good portion of the sellout crowd was rooting for the Blackhawks, who hadn’t allowed more than four goals in a game this season or even trailed by more than two goals until the Avs’ spectacular second period.
“It’s a great confidence booster,” Duchene said. “It shows us we can play with anybody in this league.”
The crowd chanted, “End of streak! End of streak!” over the final minutes after P.A. Parenteau’s 10th goal of the season made it 6-2.
Bryan Bickell’s goal with 11:07 pulled the Blackhawks to 5-2 and he nearly scored again from the same spot 90 seconds later, but Varlamov smothered the shot, and that was that.
The teams got into a scuffle with 5:04 left after Bickell squared off with Gabriel Landeskog, who had checked Keith in the back.
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews got the scoring started when he knocked the puck past Varlamov after a turnover on a give-and-go with forward Marian Hossa, who returned from an upper-body injury.
Colorado (9-10-4) tied it when Stastny, who was between the circles, tipped a pass from Duchene into the net. It was a rare power play goal for the Avalanche, who came into the game ranked 29th in the league with just 82 shots when skating with a man advantage.
Duchene’s goal between Crawford’s legs made it 2-1. Just 33 seconds later, Mitchell scored on an assist from O’Reilly, who was signed to a two-year $10 million deal last week after the Avalanche matched Calgary’s offer sheet following a nasty contract dispute.
O’Reilly’s goal came on a slap shot from the top of the right circle 4 seconds into another power play. Duchene set him up with a pass after Stastny won the faceoff.
Duchene got his third assist when he dug out a loose puck from the boards in a scramble with Keith and kicked it out to McGinn, who put made it 5-1.
“They had a good pace to their game and they were definitely on tonight,” Quenneville said.
Remarkable though it was, the streak had become somewhat of a burden for the Blackhawks.
“It’s gained a lot of momentum over the last little while and our opponents, they treated it like it was a very important game,” Quenneville said. “You look at the standings and everyone has a meaningful game, but it seemed like there was added incentive as we’ve gone along. We welcomed the challenge.”
After a while, it seemed the streak had taken on a life of its own.
“I’d say the last handful of games the talk about it kind of got out of control,” Toews said. “The guys in our locker room, we always focused on the same thing, being prepared to play our team game. We never really got distracted by that. Maybe it does take a little bit of pressure off us and we can sit back and look at the good things we’ve done.”
The Blackhawks’ run comes with somewhat of an asterisk because they actually lost three games along the way — all in shootouts. Under NHL rules, that’s still worth a point, but that makes it different from what the Flyers accomplished nearly a quarter-century ago.
During that streak, Philadelphia won 25 games and tied 10. There was no overtime until the playoffs, and the shootout was still a far-off creation. If the teams were tied after 60 minutes, that’s how it ended. Each got a point.
Nowadays, both teams still receive a point if the game is tied at the end of regulation. Then, the team that scores in a five-minute, four-skaters-a-side overtime period or wins the shootout gets an extra point.
“It’s over,” Crawford said. “Move on to the next game.”