The shortened 2013 NHL season has given hockey fans two amazing streaks to enjoy, both of which have helped the sport recover and win back fans following a lengthy lockout that reduced the schedule from 82 to 48 games.
The Chicago Blackhawks started the season with a record 24-game point streak, which was the third-longest single-season streak of games without a regulation loss.
Starting with a 7-6 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on the road, the Penguins went on to become the first team in the NHL history to ever go undefeated in a calendar month with at least 10 games played. Pittsburgh finished March with a 15-0 record, including 11 wins over teams in the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.
One of the criticisms fans use to discredit the accomplishments of the Blackhawks and Penguins this season is the lack of games against the other conference because the lockout-shortened season has used a schedule featuring an exclusively in-conference format.
In the case of the Blackhawks, some people said during their streak that they would not have gone 24 games without losing in regulation if Eastern Conference contenders such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers were on the schedule.
The Blackhawks went 12-2-3 versus Eastern Conference teams last season, including an 8-1-1 record against teams currently in a playoff spot in the East.
The original 82-game schedule for the Blackhawks this season included just three East teams in its first 24 games (at Toronto, Montreal and home to Pittsburgh). All three of those are winnable games.
When you factor in their previous success against the East, the much-improved play of goaltenders Ray Emery and Corey Crawford and the Hart Trophy-caliber performance of Patrick Kane, it would be wrong to assume that Chicago wouldn't have earned a point in 24 straight games if it played teams from both conferences.
Travel also wouldn't a concern for the Blackhawks because they are in the Central time zone and wouldn't have to go on many lengthy flights to play Eastern teams on the road.
It's also not like the Eastern Conference has a bunch of top teams. The Bruins, Canadiens and Penguins are the only legitimate contenders to reach the Stanley Cup Final from the East, while the West has about six teams (Blackhawks, Ducks, Canucks, Wild, Blues and Kings) capable of winning the conference.
The Blackhawks are the only team ranked in the top five of goals scored and goals against, and the depth on their roster is tremendous.
Their fantastic streak is not a product of the shortened season because this is a very talented team with a roster of former Stanley Cup champions that have had success against Eastern teams in recent years.
If Chicago could go on a 24-game point streak with fewer off days and a shortened training camp, it could definitely accomplish this in a normal 82-game season with a full training camp and preseason.
As for the Penguins' streak, it's entirely possible that this team could have won 15 games in a row if teams from the Western Conference were on its schedule.
Pittsburgh was 13-2-3 against the West last season, which is impressive, since superstar forward Sidney Crosby only played in 22 games because of injury.
Going on lengthy winning streaks isn't anything new to this Pittsburgh team. The Penguins went on separate win streaks of eight and 10 games last year, and they also had a 12-game win streak during the 2010-11 season. This team knows what it takes to win games consistently against top teams.
Crosby was having the most impressive season of his NHL career from an offensive standpoint before he suffered a jaw injury in late March, with 56 points in 36 games (1.55 PPG) this year. Pittsburgh has also gotten strong goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and veteran backup Tomas Vokoun, who have combined for a 31-10 record.
The Penguins have the most talent of any team in the NHL, so while their 15-game win streak this season was pretty special, it wasn't a surprise because fans expect greatness from this team.
No matter how many games are played in a particular season, Pittsburgh is going to have several win streaks of five or more games. This is what happens when your team has the two most talented players in the world: Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The shortened season has made going on win streaks and point streaks much more difficult, so it would be foolish to make them seem less impressive because of the in-conference schedule.
The Penguins and Blackhawks have both enjoyed remarkable success against the other conference over the past few years and they are no strangers to lengthy streaks of success.
Chicago and Pittsburgh's streaks are not products of the shortened season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston.
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