The scramble in front of the Chicago Blackhawks net was another furious one, with another opponent making things interesting in the waning moments. But for the second consecutive night, the Blackhawks withstood the pressure and got those coveted points.
Ben Smith scored his first of the season and Patrick Kane got the game-winner on a late second-period power play as the Blackhawks held off the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, at the United Center on Saturday night. The Blackhawks collected four points in their back-to-back games this weekend, albeit in nail-biting fashion.
Never a dull moment, but points are points.
“Another close one,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We let them back in. It’s always dangerous to let a team hang around. Everyone has skill players, and when they get a chance to score, they’ll take it. We could’ve put them away in the second period, but we missed a lot of chances. We couldn’t find a way to get the puck in there.”
[WATCH: Crawford: "It's never an easy game"]
Part of the Blackhawks’ quandary was the guy in that opposing net. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was stellar, stopping shot after shot, 38-of-40 for the night. Miller kept Buffalo in the hunt while the Sabres struggled to generate opportunities, offensive zone time or shots through most of the game.
By the third, the rest of the Sabres woke up. Buffalo outshot the Blackhawks, 13-3, in the final period, with Drew Stafford finally breaking through with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation. A few late Buffalo flurries, a few late close calls and a much-welcomed final horn later, the Blackhawks were salvaging another one.
Corey Crawford stopped 28 of 29 shots for the victory.
“Last year was comparable: We played tight games early in the year,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “There are no easy nights. You can’t take shifts off, you can’t take nights off, for sure.”
The Blackhawks looked like they could have an offensive-minded night when this one started. Smith redirected a Brent Seabrook shot past Miller about halfway through the first to give them a 1-0 lead. But for all the shots the Blackhawks generated — 37 through the first two periods — getting them past Miller became increasingly difficult.
Then came Kane on what ended up being the Blackhawks’ last power play of the game. Kane lifted one just out of Miller’s reach, giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 advantage with 25 seconds left in the second period.
“It can still can get better, which is the exciting thing,” Kane said of the power play, which has produced at least once in four of the first five games. “When we converge and try to make plays off scrambled, loose pucks, that’s when we get the most success. It’s not really setups or set plays, it’s just playing hockey. When there’s a rebound, we’re attacking the net. That’s what we did tonight.”
The Blackhawks attacked plenty, be it 5-on-5, 5-on-4, even 4-on-5. Maybe it was just another great goaltender stymieing them at every opportunity or just some tough luck. The Blackhawks got through regardless, but they know they’ll need to capitalize on more chances.
Never a dull moment.
“We missed some high-quality stuff, and their goalie made some key saves, some timely saves as well,” Quenneville said. “It’s early in the season, but don’t think you’re going to have an easy two points at all.”
Ben Smith took a nasty-looking hit from Sabres agitator Steve Ott in the first period. Smith went to the locker room for a few moments but returned and played the rest of the game.
“I’ve been through that before, and it’s a little sore and unfortunate,” said Smith, who suffered a concussion a few years ago when Detroit’s Brendan Smith hit him in the head during a preseason game. “But luckily I came out OK.”
— Patrick Kane had a team-high six shots on goal tonight. Patrick Sharp was next with five.
— Duncan Keith’s secondary assist on Ben Smith’s goal was his fourth helper of the season.