By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Five more penalty kills Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres, including two during the third period, helped the Chicago Blackhawks grind out a tight 2-1 victory.
Coach Joel Quenneville’s units have killed nine straight power plays and 17 of the last 18 over five games.
“I think a little bit of everything,” Quenneville said inside the First Niagara Center. “Confidence is part of it, timely saves, clears, pressure up ice. I think continuity with pairs on the front end and back end as well, pressuring when it’s available, blocking shots.”
Captain Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks haven’t changed anything recently. Confidence and structure has buoyed the units.
“Structurally, I think for a while now, we’ve been much more sound, much more understanding of what we have to do and we’ve committed to it,” he said. “We’ve got guys in lanes. We’ve got D-men especially blocking a lot of shots, helping out our goaltender. We know it’s important, we’ve committed ourselves to it.”
Toews added: “Everyone’s kind of talked about our penalty kill ranking all year and how it’s still not where it should be (19th overall, 81.1 percent). But to us it doesn’t matter. If it can make a difference and find a way to help us win some of these tight games like we did tonight, then that’s what it’s all about. We’ll keep working on that and making sure it’s effective for us.”
Hjalmarsson shows his 'warrior' side
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson left the game in the first minute of the third period after blocking two shots in about 10 seconds. First, the puck appeared to hit him high. Then he blocked a shot stickless and skated off favoring his right leg.
Hjalmarsson didn’t miss much time, however. The Swede skated 21:41 over 30 shifts.
“He’s a warrior-type guy,” Quenneville said. “So he finds a way to get through it.”
Hawks fans continue road dominance
Close to one-third of the crowd of 19,070 fans appeared to be supporting Chicago. Many of them sported red Blackhawks jerseys, Patrick Kane’s No. 88 being the most popular.
“It’s something we’ve gotten used to on the road,” said Kane, a Buffalo native. “We have a great fan base that travels with our team. Sometimes a lot of the games on the road they feel like home games because we have so many fans.”