By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The crowd sensed something special as soon as superstar Patrick Kane poked the puck past Christian Ehrhoff and zoomed into the slot.
A second later, with fans inside the First Niagara Center buzzing, the Buffalo native’s wicked wrist shot beat Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth high just 3:12 into the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2-1 win Sunday.
The capacity crowd of 19,070 fans roared in approval for Kane’s first goal in six games, a highlight-reel score.
“It was a good feeling,” Kane said following his first appearance in Buffalo since Oct. 12, 2010. “It’s always a lot of emotions and different feelings when you come back and play here. But it was nice to score early and kind of settle down after that.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville called the goal, which Kane didn’t see go in, “beautiful.”
“I thought Kane was especially very dangerous tonight,” he said.
But the Blackhawks couldn’t ride the momentum against the pesky Sabres. The game became a dull, low-chance affair after the Sabres tied it minutes later.
“I don’t think Chicago really wanted to play tonight,” Enroth said.
Still, the Blackhawks eked out their third win in their last six games thanks to captain Jonathan Toews’ sixth goal in the past four contests.
Toews won it 1:31 into the third period, converting from the right side of the crease after nifty cross-ice passes from Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.
What’s gotten into Toews?
Quenneville said the 25-year-old returned from the Olympics in “great shape, very confident.”
“The pucks seems to be following him along there no matter who’s his linemates,” he said. “He’s had a couple different linemates over the last five games. He seems to … have good pace with it, has the puck as well. He’s around the net. He’s getting rewarded.”
Kane added: “Whether he scores or not, he’s going to bring the same thing every night. He plays the same way and gives you the same effort. So it’s kind of an added bonus when he’s going like he is right now.”
Quenneville wants Toews’ line to settle down, though.
“They have the ability to make plays like that,” he said. “I think we got a little fortunate on that one. At the same time, I think we try to prevent trying to make too many plays off the rush. Just get it ahead. Just get it at the net and get some action off of it.”
The NHL’s worst team gave all the Blackhawks all they could handle. The Sabres have improved greatly under interim coach Ted Nolan, and began Sunday with four wins in their last six games.
The Sabres appeared to tie it 5:23 into the game, but the referee whistled Tyler Ennis for hooking Corey Crawford after he stole the puck from the Blackhawks goalie outside of the crease and scored.
Drew Stafford tied it at 9:11, capitalizing after Cory Conacher’s nifty move drew Crawford out of the crease.
Crawford made 20 stops, including a nice glove stop as Brian Flynn roared in with 5:32 left.