Saturday afternoon, Buffalo native Patrick Kane scored the final two goals of the game to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. The Hawks’ fourth win in five games was decided in the final few minutes of action.
Through the first 56 minutes, the teams played an even game; each had scored one goal on a lazy defensive mistake by the other team. Evander Kane had moved to the point in the Hawks’ zone to cover for a pinching defenseman when Dennis Rasmussen picked up the puck.
The rookie easily beat Evander Kane to go to the net all alone. His wrister put the Hawks ahead, beating Chad Johnson just inside the post on the short side.
The Sabres tying goal came when Cody Franson netted his third from a terrible angle, past the face-off dot on the boards. Corey Crawford, who was 5-1 in his last six games with three shutouts in his last four games, allowed this softie. He had come out of his net but didn’t return fast enough to get back in position.
The Hawks had command of the first 23 minutes of the game. The Sabres were playing tentatively, as if aware that they were playing the Stanley Cup champions, awaiting an offensive barrage. And they had good reason. The league’s leading scorer, Patrick Kane, had recently ended an historic 26 game scoring steak. His line, Chicago’s second line, had registered 95 points in the first 33 games.
It wasn’t until Cody Franson scored that the Sabres got back to playing their game, turning on the speed and forecheck. The Sabres outshot the Hawks 14-9 in the second period.
Sam Reinhart had a strong game for the Sabres, logging nearly 18 minutes of ice time, taking four shots and playing well at both ends of the ice. With just three minutes to go in the third, he and linemate Ryan O’Reilly teamed up for a go-ahead goal that seemed likely to be the game-winner.
Reinhart had all the attention from the Hawks when he made a smooth, behind-the-net cross-ice pass to O’Reilly who made no mistake pumping in his 12th of the season.
That’s the point that the NHL game turned wild. The end of this game featured four penalties, two goals and fierce passion that lasted through overtime and into a shoot-out.
Chicago, who hasn’t lost in Buffalo since 2009, began to apply pressure in the Sabres’ zone, anticipating pulling the goalie to try to tie the game. With 2:33 left, two penalties were assessed by two officials on the Sabres, simultaneously; Rasmus Ristolainen for high-sticking and Josh Gorges for holding. It was Ristolainen’s first penalty of the season.
With 34 seconds to play in regulation time, Patrick Kane scored on the two-man advantage. Another penalty was called on the play; Cody Franson for cross-checking. Throughout the remaining time, the teams traded chances even as Andrew Shaw was sent to the box for hooking halfway through OT. The overtime ended with the game knotted at two. Kane then scored the only goal in the shootout, roofing a brilliant shot after some fancy stickhandling.
“It’s about results. It’s pathetic and embarrassing. For myself, too many chances, missing in the shootout. I was embarrassed by that. That’s not leadership. We have to close that. It’s just simple. It’s not acceptable.” – Ryan O’Reilly
It was a disappointing way to lose, but the Sabres can take solace in the fact that they played the defending champs hard and still won a point. They are also 3-1-1 going into their holiday break.
Chad Johnson has been playing very well, stopping 102 of the last 105 shots that he has faced. The Sabres next face the Bruins next Saturday at 7 p.m. at the TD Garden.
“We’ve been looking at the break for a little bit,” said Coach Dan Bylsma in the post-game interview. “We have quite a long one with six days being off,” he continued, “I think the players should be pretty proud of the way they’ve gone into the break. (We’ve) played some good games, got some wins, and played a good team real tough tonight.”