-- NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For some people, this will never just be a hockey story.
For some people, this marvelous point streak by Chicago Blackhawks star winger Patrick Kane -- which reached 24 games after his controversial goal against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night -- and his sparkling regular season will be about everything but the hockey.
More than four months after Kane was alleged to have raped a young woman at his Buffalo area home and more than a month after local prosecutors sharply questioned the veracity of the claims against Kane in deciding not to bring criminal charges, the incident remains a shadow trailing the league's leading scorer.
On the morning before the game against the Predators, Kane chatted with linemates Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin -- or, rather, was chatting with Anisimov and gesturing to Panarin, whose English remains a work in progress -- in the Chicago dressing room after a morning skate.
He shot a quick video hit with the team's in-house video team, then dutifully answered questions about Nashville and the streak.
"There's a lot of great players that have had amazing streaks, and I think this is one that I've had, I mean, I've been lucky and fortunate to keep it alive for as long as it's been going on," Kane explained as the dressing room cleared.
"There's been some big games, some bad games, but sometimes you need a little bit of luck in a streak like this. I think it's been fun. My teammates have been great. I think they've been almost too kind, to the point where sometimes you almost feel that they're over-passing a little bit. But everyone's been awesome about it."
He acknowledged that, with all the attention, he's probably thought a little bit more about the streak itself than he should. But having passed Bobby Hull to establish the longest streak in franchise history at 22 games, he seems Zen about how it might unfold.
"You get a lot of questions about it," Kane said. "You get to talk about it every day, so sometimes you probably think about it a little more than you should. But I'm at the point now where I'm not worried about it, just focused on playing the right way and playing hockey."
A few hours later, Kane would poke home a loose puck early in the third period and, in spite of an unsuccessful challenge by Predators coach Peter Laviolette, the streak would go to 24 straight games with a point.
Only twice since 1992-93 has a player enjoyed such an impressive streak of point collection. The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby had a 25-game streak in the 2010-11 season. Kane, one away from that mark, admitted he has no memory of the Crosby streak, but his current exploits have caught the eye of the hockey world.
As they should.
"There's always things through the course of a year that make noise in a positive way," Laviolette noted before Thursday's game, ultimately won 5-1 by the Predators. "Somebody's shutout streak or somebody's point streak or somebody's consecutive games with a goal; whatever it might be.
"It's difficult to string things along in this league. Whether they be points or goals or wins or whatever it might be. When you really get an extended streak like this, you do appreciate the fact that it's not easy to do."
Considered on its own, the season Kane is having is one for the ages.
He is on pace for 120 points and owns a five-point bulge over Dallas Stars twin offensive giants Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the NHL scoring lead and is second in goals scored with 18, one behind Benn.
No player has hit the 120-point mark since Crosby in 2006-07, and only three players have hit the 120-point plateau since 2000.
And it's not as if this has come out of the blue.
Before injuries derailed the end of his past two seasons, Kane was at or near the top of NHL scoring. He has worked diligently with team coaches and privately in the offseason to expand his repertoire, to be an elite player not just an elite passer.
Former Blackhawk and current national broadcast analyst Ed Olczyk said Kane's evolution as a goal scorer has been dramatic and has forced defenders to play him differently, to give him more space, and space and time are lethal in the hands of a player such as Kane.
"He's become less predictable in the offensive zone. I just think it speaks to the ability and the greatness that Patrick Kane has as a hockey player," said Olczyk, who owned a share of the longest point streak by an American with Phil Kessel at 18 games before Kane's current streak.
GM Stan Bowman pointed out that Kane is, for the first time in the past couple of years, playing on a nightly basis with the same linemates, Panarin and Anisimov, and that the three complement each other with their styles of play.
"He's going to create offense," Bowman said. "He can do it by himself."
But now he doesn't necessarily need to.
"He's been trending this way," Bowman said. "He's kicked it up another level this year."
As for the streak, the GM with whom Kane lived when he first broke into the NHL said he hasn't really paid attention until the past handful of games.
"He's been playing so dominantly, you didn't even really think about the streak," Bowman said.
But with teams now looking to be the one to stop the streak, the drama has gone up exponentially.
"Sometimes you play well and you don't get points. Sometimes you don't play as well and you can come out with a few points in a game," Kane explained. "It's weird how things work. I think after the lockout, I've kind of been on the same pace, this year probably a little bit more than I had done in previous years.
"One of my main goals coming into this year was to finish 82 games and see where I'm at."
And so, in and of itself, Kane's season, his streak, would have been a focal point.
But against the backdrop of the rape allegations, his accomplishments are seen -- at least by some -- as something else.
For some there are still lingering feelings that the team acted poorly in having Kane attend training camp in the midst of the investigation, Then there was the awkward news conference at which Kane uncomfortably if politely declined to answer questions about the investigation while team president John McDonough lauded the team's string of Stanley Cup wins.
Bowman believes at some point the discussion about the off-ice allegations will fade.
"Time changes a lot of things," he said. "There will come a time [when discussion of the off-ice issues will fade], but I recognize that, the world we live in now, it's not going to change in a few months."
Unspoken is the caveat that for Kane to emerge fully from this shadow -- if such an emergence is possible -- he will have to avoid trouble, something that has dogged him at various points in his career.
Whatever the backstory, however he is viewed by the public or media or other players, there can be no misunderstanding the level at which Kane is playing and his standing as the current favorite to win a Hart Trophy and become the first American-born player to win a scoring title.
"I think some of the things that get talked about him a lot are his skill, his patience and his ability to make plays and stick handle with his head up," two-time Norris Trophy-winning Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said after Thursday's loss.
"But I think what a lot of people don't see about him on a day-to-day basis that us teammates and people around the team are fortunate enough to see behind the scenes is just how much he cares about hockey and how much determination he has to be the best he can be. I think that says a lot about this character as far as just how much he cares."
Even with all of the off-ice distraction -- which includes an ongoing NHL investigation into the allegations that could in theory result in supplemental discipline but for which there has been nothing released by the league -- Keith said there are no surprises about Kane's performance.
"No, nothing surprises me with him," Keith said. "But at the same time, I think we're all still impressed and just, like I said, fortunate to have a guy like him on our team that makes everybody around him better on the ice."
Has Kane surprised himself, especially given all of the external issues he faced?
Perhaps a little.
"I was a little nervous because of the fact that I didn't really skate much this summer," Kane said in a nearly empty Chicago dressing room.
"My first time on the ice was at training camp, so you never really know what's going to come about that. But I think every day I just tried to get better on the ice, try to work on different things every day."
He tried to focus on the present and not look too far into the future, he added.
"I don't know if I'm necessarily surprised, but I guess you never really know what's going to come about when you don't skate for a whole summer," Kane said.
If he is basically the same player simply occupying a new level of consistency and proficiency, is Kane any different as a person?
"I still feel that I'm the same person, to be honest with you," Kane said.
"Obviously, certain things have to change. That's part of growing older and becoming more mature. But as far as my personality around the locker room, around the ice, I still love being here, still love having fun, still love playing the game of hockey."
A nice sentiment, even if for some people this isn't just about hockey.