AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — When Patrick Kane was just a kid, his father would carry his equipment when he went to camps or tournaments. Kane carried a smaller stick and an orange ball for practicing stickhandling, and he put them to good use whenever he had an opportunity.
To and from the car. Around the rink. The room at the hotel.
All seeds of a record-breaking streak for the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Sometimes I would throw my sister in the net, it would be the doorway to our hotel room, and try and score on whether it was one, two or three of them at a time,” Kane said. “But a lot of good memories, and that was kind of my childhood growing up, was playing hockey and enjoying that stuff.”
The joy is still there, especially right now. The star winger is on the best run of his career after a trying offseason, part of a strong start to the season that could lead to more hardware for his already impressive resume.
Kane’s second-period goal against Minnesota on Tuesday extended his point streak to 20 games, one shy of the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Bobby Hull during the 1971-72 season. It’s already a record for a U.S.-born player — Kane is from Buffalo, N.Y. — and the longest such run in the league since Sidney Crosby’s 25-game streak in 2010, according to STATS.
“He’s a man on a mission, that’s for sure,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I think that he’s got good chemistry with his line. You see the way that those guys are playing, the zone time that they get. I think that he’s just been a difference maker, shift after shift.”
Kane, center Artem Anisimov and rookie Artemi Panarin have formed one of the NHL’s most potent lines in their first season together. Heading into Wednesday’s games, Kane leads the league with 23 assists and 38 points. Anisimov is second on the team with 10 goals, and Panarin is second on the Blackhawks with 16 assists and 23 points.
Kane’s line has been the only consistent combination so far for the Stanley Cup champions, who have dropped four of six heading into Thursday’s visit to Ottawa.
“That line, they all been complementing each other and it’s been our go-to group,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “So it’s been effective in a lot of ways.”
The Blackhawks searched for a big second-line center to play with Kane for years before they acquired the 6-foot-4 Anisimov in the trade that sent Brandon Saad to Columbus this summer. Panarin, another Russian forward who has a similar skill set to Kane with his passing prowess and ability to hold onto the puck, signed a two-year deal with Chicago late last season and scored in his NHL debut in October — off a pass from Kane.
Learning how to play with Kane, 27, with his vision and talent, can take a while, but his current line seemed to work almost immediately.
“I think we’re all kind of figuring how to play with one another,” Kane said. “You know, it’s still a work in progress, too. I don’t think we’re happy or satisfied with where we’re at.”
Kane has long been one of hockey’s biggest stars, but his future was in question when he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation in western New York this summer. An Erie County prosecutor announced last month that he had declined to file charges against Kane because of a lack of credible evidence in a case “rife with reasonable doubt.”
Kane maintained his innocence throughout the investigation. When it was over, he said he was relieved for his family and friends, and looked forward to getting back to normal.
“It’s one of those things where it has been my getaway to play hockey and enjoy being at the rink,” he said the day after the prosecutor’s announcement. “I am looking forward to keep getting a chance to do that.”
The streak began on Oct. 17, when he got an empty-net goal in a 4-1 victory over Columbus. He had a close call at Anaheim last week, picking up a secondary assist on Duncan Keith’s tying goal in the final minute of a 3-2 overtime win.
It really became a special run for him as he approached the U.S.-born record of 18 games, previously held by Eddie Olczyk and Phil Kessel. When he got to 19 with a power-play goal in the first period of a 3-2 overtime loss at Los Angeles on Saturday, he pumped his right arm in celebration.
During a TV interview between periods, Kane dedicated the record-breaking goal to his dad.
“My mom said he got a little emotional after the 18 games, so I thought I’d throw him a little shoutout. He likes that stuff,” Kane said before the game against the Wild. “He deserves a lot of credit, too.”