Flashback to Friday April 3, 2015: The last time the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks played each other.
It was game 78 of the season for the Sabres, and the team sat just two points behind the Arizona Coyotes in the race for last place in the NHL standings. Chicago came into Buffalo with a playoff berth already locked up in the West, but were looking to improve where they sat in the Central Division and try to earn home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.
After Chicago got out to a quick 2-0 lead, the Sabres stormed back to take a 3-2 lead with just 7:17 left to go in the third period.
At the 18:17 mark of the third period, Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews scored the game-tying goal past Sabres goalie, Anders Lindback. Just 1:03 later, the unthinkable happened. Toews accepted a drop pass from Brandon Saad, and ripped a shot past Lindback to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead with just 55.2 seconds left in the game.
Buffalo would end up losing the game, keeping them just two points behind the Coyotes in 30th place. Buffalo would eventually finish last place, and end up with Jack Eichel after the Edmonton Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery.
What would have happened if Toews did not get those two goals to give Chicago the win? That is a thought for another day.
In the present day, both teams would meet for the first time since that game in a Saturday matinée at the First Niagara Center.
Buffalo would turn back to Chad Johnson in-goal after a 44-save shutout win over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night, and has been very good in net for the Sabres as of late. Johnson has a 5-2-0 record with a .942 save percentage and a 1.74 goals-against average over an eight game span.
For the Blackhawks, they turned again to Corey Crawford in net, who has won five of his last six games posting a 0.67 goals-against average, a .978 save-percentage and three shutouts.
The Blackhawks find the scoreboard first with a goal from Dennis Rasmussen. Evander Kane was stuck playing back as a defender, and Rasmussen took advantage. Rasumssen beat Kane, protecting the puck well with his body, and crashed the net, beating Johnson for the early 1-0 lead.
Chicago would go into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead, and out-shot Buffalo in the period 6-5. Chicago also playing as the more dominant team in the period, winning the puck battles and playing much faster than the Sabres.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 19, 2015
Buffalo would answer in the second after Crawford misplayed a bouncing puck in behind his own net. As Crawford was coming back into position, Cody Franson threw a puck from the right-side boards on net and it beat Crawford to tie the contest. Jack Eichel and Evander Kane got the assists on Franson’s goal.
The period would end in a 1-1 draw, but the Sabres having the advantage in shots with 14 in the period over Chicago’s nine. Buffalo looked to have the advantage in zone time, and played with a lot more energy than in the second period.
In the third period, the Sabres and Blackhawks both coming out flying, trying to get ahead and have control of the game.
With 3:20 left to go in the game, Ryan O’Reilly chased down a Jake McCabe flip-in and gave the puck to Sam Reinhart. Reinhart took the puck in behind the net and drew Crawford to his left. Reinhart then passed the puck back to O’Reilly on the right side of the net, where he had an open net to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead.
The Sabres looked to be on its way to earning a huge two points against one of the league’s best teams, until penalties got Buffalo into trouble. With just 2:33 left to go in regulation, Josh Gorges tripped up Patrick Kane in the corner to give Buffalo its first penalty of the game. Before the whistle blew, Rasmus Ristolainen got his stick up on Artemi Panarin and got a high sticking penalty.
Buffalo would be down two men for the next two minutes looking to preserve its one goal lead.
O’Reilly came close to ending the game with an empty net goal down six men to three, but just put the puck about a foot wide of the net.
Just 29-seconds later, Chicago took advantage of the 6-on-3 edge, as Panarin found Kane on the left side of the Buffalo goal to tie the game 2-2. The goal came just one-second short of both Gorges’ and Ristolainen’s penalty of coming to an end.
For the Sabres, it was the first powerplay goal given up since December 7 against the Canucks, and had killed off the last previous nine penalties against them.
The Sabres would start the overtime session on the penalty kill after Cody Franson took a cross-checking penalty just before Kane scored his goal. Buffalo would kill off the penalty, and then get a late powerplay as Andrew Shaw got two minutes for hooking. The Sabres would fail to convert on the powerplay, and the game would need a shootout to decide the winner.
In the shootout, Kane would score the only goal in the second round, beating Johnson on the glove side with a nifty backhander. Crawford would stop Zemgus Girgensons in the third round to give the Blackhawks the two points over the Sabres.
“I thought it was a very good game from our team, especially in the second and third period,” Sabres head coach, Dan Bylsma said. “It was probably some of the best hockey we’ve played in a long while. We tie the game, we get a great goal by the O’Reilly line late in the third. Then you’re stuck with killing off a 5-on-3. We went to the bitter end of that one… They come back and get one in the end there. Not gonna lie, it hurts.”
Now, time for the quick hits!
- Patrick Kane is the NHL’s best
No words can describe how Patrick Kane has played this season for the Blackhawks.
The NHL’s leading scorer is having a memorable season for his career, as he once again finds the back of the net to help the Blackhawks to victory. Kane netted his 20th goal of the season with 33.5 seconds left in the game, and also notched point number 48 on the year.
Kane now sits six points ahead of Tyler Seguin in the points category, and is now tied for second in goals right behind Vladimir Tarasenko, who has 21.
Not only did Kane score the tying goal, but Kane was, once again, filthy in the shootout with his backhander past Johnson to seal the deal for Chicago.
There is no denying that Kane has been a treat to watch this season. He put up a point in 26 straight games, shattering the Blackhawks franchise record, and also breaking to record for the most among American-born players.
Kane and the Blackhawks will now head home to host the San Jose Sharks on Sunday at the United Center.
- Samson + Rhino = perfection
Dan Bylsma has done a lot of work rotating lines all season trying to find the perfect matchups for his team. If there is one line that is working right now for Buffalo, it is the McGinn-O’Reilly-Reinhart line at the top.
But the two players that make up that line are O’Reilly and Reinhart.
The two coming together on another Buffalo scoring play for Buffalo, this time in the third period to put the Sabres up 2-1 with 3:20 to go in the third period.
ROR go-ahead goal pic.twitter.com/sLn8k16p6W
— Stephanie (@myregularface) December 19, 2015
Both players have done a great job feeding off of each other not only in games, but also in practice. Reinhart has grown on O’Reilly, and both players are feeding off of each other’s play.
Bylsma should be happy with the pairing he has in O’Reilly and Reinhart, and the two should remain together for the long-term. And as long as McGinn continues to play well with the two of them, there is not splitting up the top line for anything.
- Benching helped McCabe
Jake McCabe was in a tough downward spiral a couple of weeks back. He looked lost in his game, and was playing to the fullest of his capabilities.
McCabe then took a seat in the press box against the Vancouver Canucks on December 7, and it has paid off so far.
On Saturday, McCabe matched up well with the Blackhawks’ best forwards, and did not let them get free to create any quality chances to score. McCabe was physical all game, and put up a total of three hits.
McCabe even had an assist on O’Reilly’s goal, which started when he tried to spring O’Reilly on a breakaway late in the third period. McCabe moved the puck very well in the game, and has looked light-years better since his benching.
In the six games since, he has put up a goal and added two assists while averaging 18:47 of total ice-time.
We can only hope that McCabe keeps playing well, and does not falter later on down the road. He has played well with Zach Bogosian since Mark Pysyk went down due to injury, but expect Pysyk and McCabe to be reunited once Pysyk is healthy enough to come back.
- ROR taking some blame
Ryan O’Reilly put the Sabres ahead late in the third period to give his team a 2-1 advantage.
With just 1:05 left to go in the game, and down two men on the penalty kill, O’Reilly had a chance to score in a wide open net. His shot just missed by about a foot, which Chicago took advantage of, and got the game-tying goal about a half minute later.
“If it goes in, we win the game. It’s on me,” O’Reilly said following the loss. “I have to put that in. They came back and they scored. Just, yeah…”
O’Reilly also had an early chance to put Buffalo ahead in the shootout. He came in on Crawford and had him beat,. but put his backhander just wide of the net.
“I, myself, had too many chances,” O’Reilly said. “Missing in the shootout and all that, I’m embarrassed by that. That’s not leadership, you have to close it [out]. It’s not acceptable.”
For a guy that is playing in his first season with the Sabres, and is not the captain of the team, that is a leader-like thing of him to say with him taking the blame for his missed opportunities. But O’Reilly has proven in the past that he can come back from missed opportunities such as this. He will bounce back from this loss, and he will get back to his game the next time he steps on the ice for game action.
- Eichel trying to do too much
The pressure on Jack Eichel to play well in his rookie season as a 19-year has to be very high. In 34 games this season, Eichel has played well, amassing 16 points, (nine goals and seven assists) in that span, but has shown, at times, his rookie struggles.
On Saturday, the Buffalo center appeared to be trying to do too much with the puck and is not making the necessary plays. Especially late in the third period and into the overtime session, Eichel looked like he was holding on to the puck, and trying to stick-handle more than just skating and creating some open space to make a play that way.
Eichel’s skating skill and his speed should allow him to create more space for him, and allow him to play better with the puck. Other teams have done a nice job challenging the 19-year old into forcing him into a play he does not want to make.
While Eichel is still an extremely talented player, and makes some plays that puts the fans on the edge of their seat, he just needs to try not to do so much with the puck.
But hey, we all know he is going to be a bust, right?
*I’ll show myself out.*
- Happy Holidays!
Saturday’s game was the last game Buffalo will play for a full week, which means the team will have the rest of the week to practice, spend time with their families, and enjoy the holiday season.
The Sabres will next play on December 26 when Buffalo travels to Boston to play the Bruins at the T.D. Garden.
Until then, from all of us at BLTD Sports, we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!