Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Patrick Kane felt a little sheepish for being a little too emotional during a fist-pumping celebration after extending Chicago's lead to four goals in the third period.

It certainly wasn't a clutch goal or anything like that. The Blackhawks coasted to a 5-1 win over the Sabres on Sunday night.

Then again, Kane only gets to play in his Buffalo hometown once a year.

"I was a little jacked up for a 5-1 goal," Kane said. "I don't even know what I was thinking after that. It was kind of a blackout in that moment."

At least it had some historical significance.

It was Kane's 20th goal of the season, making the South Buffalo native the league's first American-born player to score that many in each of his first 10 seasons , according to Elias Sports. Kane also became the fifth Blackhawks player to reach the 20-goal plateau 10 times on a franchise career list led by Stan Mikita's 14.

"I think it's a pretty cool number," Kane said, before joking he's starting to feel old for 28.

"It's almost sad how fast it goes by," he added. "I feel maybe not as young as I used to be. ... Hopefully, a lot of great years left."

Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews broke it open with second-period goals for Chicago, which won for the sixth time in seven games. Ryan Hartman and Artem Anisimov also scored, helping the Blackhawks bounce back from a 3-1 loss to Edmonton on Saturday.

Scott Darling, subbing for starter Corey Crawford, made 25 saves in just his seventh appearance in two months.

Evander Kane scored and Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots for Buffalo in its final game before its five-day bye. The Sabres were trying for their first four-game win streak since December 2014.

Patrick Kane, however, was part of the draw given the large number of No. 88 Blackhawks jerseys that dominated several parts of the stands. And he gave them plenty to cheer about in the third period.

First, his one-timer from the high slot set up Anisimov's goal, making it 4-1 at the 3:29 mark.

Some three minutes later, Kane showed off some of his remarkable stick-handling skills. The NHL MVP was set up on the right of the Buffalo net, and was untouched for several seconds before easily depositing the puck inside the right post .

Kane celebrated by skating around the net, dropping down to one knee and pumping his arm, before flashing a big smile at a large number of Blackhawks fans in the stands.

Darling ate it up from the far end of the rink, knowing how special the moment was to Kane.

"It's an emotional game," Darling said. "I was super happy for him to have a highlight-reel goal like that."

Kane has scored in eight straight games against the Sabres. He upped his career total to eight goals and four assists in 13 meetings.

Chicago won its 11th consecutive game over Buffalo. The Blackhawks haven't lost to the Sabres since a 2-1 defeat at Buffalo on Dec. 11, 2009.

The Sabres were unable to match the Blackhawks' speed or depth after Evander Kane tied the game by converting Jack Eichel's centering pass with 6 seconds left in the first period.

Buffalo was outshot 20-14 over the final 40 minutes and 37-26 overall.

"We did too much sitting back, playing in our own zone," Eichel said. "We didn't play aggressive enough. We gave them too much room and the puck ended in our net."

Fatigue could have played a factor for the Sabres, who went 4-2 over a stretch of six games in nine days, including a 3-2 win over St. Louis on Saturday night.

"We can take some time here to rest a bit and try and let ourselves refocus for the last push of the season," Eichel said.

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

Players, coaches adapt to NHL's new condensed schedule

These days, Brian Campbell doesn’t do much on his off nights.

If he’s not playing hockey, he’s spending as much time as possible with family. And whatever spare time he has after that, well, he’s resting.

“I’ll have friends and neighbors say, ‘Hey you want to go for dinner?’ Not a chance,” Campbell said to laughs. “I don’t want to do anything right now. I want to be at home, whether we cook or order in. It has been, at times, exhausting. It’s not much of a life outside of what’s going on.”

The Blackhawks are currently enjoying their bye week after playing 57 games through Feb. 11. Thanks to World Cup and a bye week for each team, the NHL schedule has been condensed this season. That’s offered its challenges, its various effects on players and coaches and differing opinions.

Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he’s had to adjust. The usual way he does things just aren’t going to fly this season. Looking at the Wild’s record, the changes apparently haven’t hurt them.

“There are a lot of tired players and we’ve had fewer practices than any time I’ve ever been a coach in this league,” Boudreau said at the All-Star weekend. “We finished nine games in 15 days [before the break] and we never practiced the other six days because you can’t kill the guys, especially your better players. If you’re asking them to practice for 30 minutes and then asking them to play for 25 minutes, it’s a pretty daunting task.”

As for players on other teams, some love the schedule and some don’t.

“There aren’t too many guys in this league who are big practice guys. We want to play,” said Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn, who added he hasn’t changed his daily routine much. “We want to be out there on the ice. For me, personally, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Fellow Stars defenseman John Klingberg talked of the Stars’ early hectic schedule, in which the team wasn’t playing well and dealt with a lot of injuries. He thought a few on-ice sessions may have been beneficial at that time.

“We didn’t practice almost at all and at that time, when we struggled, we really needed to practice,” Klingberg said. “It was tough because we wanted to keep the energy going for the games. At the same time, you want to get practices in so you have the feeling with hands and feet. That’s something I felt earlier in the year that I needed more of. I was trying to skate as much as I could but there weren’t a lot of scheduled practices.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

With that, let’s look at the Blackhawks.

Considering how coach Joel Quenneville runs a practice schedule, it seems like the Blackhawks have been prepping for a season like this since the 2012-13 lockout. That year, when teams were playing roughly every other day in that 48-game schedule, Quenneville started eliminating a lot of practices. Part of that was the Blackhawks’ success: they got off to a 21-0-3 start, so why practice? But it was also about conserving energy. Even now he keeps his practices to about 35 minutes.

“Through the history of being around this team, it’s proven that rest is important and practices can be overrated,” Quenneville said with a laugh. “Our guys have played a lot of games, our older guys, for sure, and meaningful games. And we find we’re at our best when we’re rested and come ready to play the games and use time away from the rink to get re-energized, freshened up. Sometimes I think playing games is the right time to let it all out there.”

Still, it’s ultimately about the individual. Marian Hossa will take some practices and skates off, saving his energy for games. He’s having a great season, sharing the team’s goal lead with Artem Anisimov (20 for each). This is also coming off World Cup, in which Hossa played plenty of minutes for tournament runner-up Team Europe.

“It’s good to practice here or there but when you have so many games, I think the most important thing toward the end of the year is rest,” Hossa said. “We’re pretty lucky we have that, and I think we also have had good results off that. It seems like it works.”

Patrick Kane doesn’t take many skates or practices off but he has added something new to his repertoire: cryotherapy. In the therapy, be it whole-body or localized, a person is exposed to subzero temperatures for a few minutes.

“I think it has helped me, especially to do that in Chicago every off day, so it’s been good. I feel like fresh on the ice, which is good,” Kane said. “I think you try out different things to help your body or get yourself to recover a little bit faster than other times if you have more days off.”

So has the schedule had an effect on game outcomes, from the lopsided scores to those with double-digit goal totals? Boudreau believes it has.

“I’m sure everyone has theories,” Boudreau continued, “but my thought is, this is why there are so many discrepancies in so many of the games, be it 7-1, 5-1, 6-5 or 8-7.”

It could be debated. Some of the most lopsided scores (Columbus’ 10-0 victory over Montreal, Los Angeles’ 7-0 decision over Toronto and Winnipeg’s 8-2 victory over Dallas) came within the first month of the regular season. Seems that would be too early to blame a schedule. But there have been some outlandish outcomes recently. The Penguins 8-7 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 16 comes to mind. The next night, the Stars beat the New York Rangers 7-6. The Toronto beat the Islanders 7-1 on Tuesday.

“You look at the schedule this year, a tougher schedule. You see a few more blow outs, you wonder if that has anything to do with it,” Kane said. “Who knows?”

As coaches and players love to say, the schedule is what it is. But there’s no doubt it’s been busier this season, and everyone is doing what they can to adjust.

“Sometimes you have long road trips that might catch up to you with the travel or things like that. But even then, you’re not really thinking about it too much. You’re just trying to do what you can to get yourself ready for the next game,” Kane said. “I don’t think anyone thinks about it too much. It’s just we’re hockey players, we like playing games, so it’s a good thing.”

Blackhawks cruise past Oilers for fifth straight win

Blackhawks cruise past Oilers for fifth straight win

EDMONTON, Alberta – There have been times where the Blackhawks have gone into breaks playing so-so hockey.

They've looked tired, unmotivated, like they've flipped the calendar to their off day a few hours too early. But on Saturday, the Blackhawks looked like a team that was going to earn a few days off.

Richard Panik had two goals and an assist and Jonathan Toews added two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 on Saturday night. The Blackhawks went 5-1-0 on their Ice Show trip and enter the break on a five-game winning streak, three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild.

Patrick Kane had a goal and and two assists. Scott Darling stopped 30 of 31 shots for the victory and Artem Anisimov scored his 20th goal of the season.

The Blackhawks got steadily better on this road trip and they saved their most convincing victory on it for the end.  Patrick Maroon gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game after Connor McDavid picked Niklas Hjalmarsson's pocket. That was pretty much the last time the Blackhawks were caught playing careful.

"We're playing good hockey," Darling said. "That's a super talented team with a lot of skill. We weathered the storm and took over the game. We played 200-foot hockey and that helped give me an easier night."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Indeed, when the Oilers made mistakes, they capitalized – Trevor van Riemsdyk's goal off Oscar Klefbom's gaffe was one such example. Their power play was stellar. Kane scored from behind the net on one advantage, shooting the puck off Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot's skate. Panik cleaned up a rebound on the second, which gave the Blackhawks a 4-1 lead late in the second period.

The four-line rotation was evident again but the top line did the most damage. Panik had his second three-point night of the season – his other one was his hat trick against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 15.

"If you get a goal your confidence is high," Panik said. "When you're hot you have to keep doing it as long as it goes because if you go on a cold streak you can go on it for a while. That's what happened to me at the beginning of the season."

Considering how well the Blackhawks are playing right now you wouldn't have been surprised to hear a player or two wish they could delay the bye and keep playing. Nope. As Darling said, "we'll be back pretty quick."

"We'll use it to our advantage," Duncan Keith said. "We'll try to use it to rest up and feel as good as we can, come back and try to carry on the momentum. At the end of the day it's been a good stretch of games here lately. All four lines, defensemen and goalies are playing great. It's just something we can keep in our heads, of what we can do."

The Blackhawks have had a habit of sliding into a break. They could've done it again on Saturday, coming off big victories over the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets and playing on the second night of a back to back. Instead, whatever energy they had remaining, they used it wisely.

"Minny, which had our number going back eight games, we knew the importance of that game. Winnipeg owned four games against us and good response [Friday] night. Earlier this season we got pounded here. Good response all three games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're certainly happy how we're going into the break. Everyone should enjoy it, knowing we put a nice standard going into it."