CHICAGO – The streaks continued Friday night in the United Center, exactly in the way most people would have expected. The Chicago Blackhawks won their sixth straight game and the Buffalo Sabres lost their sixth straight.
But this was no cakewalk for the defending Stanley Cup champions as it took Philip Danault’s first NHL goal with 4:59 left to snap a tie and the Hawks went on to a 3-1 victory.
Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson made 42 saves in the game but probably would want the winner back. He went down early and Danault, Chicago’s first-round pick in 2011, burned him with a quick shot just under the crossbar while skating through the left circle.
Jonathan Toews hit the empty net with 24.5 seconds left.
It was Buffalo’s ninth straight loss against the Blackhawks dating to Dec. 11, 2009 and their sixth straight loss here since a win on Jan. 10, 2007. That was five months before the Hawks made South Buffalo native Patrick Kane the No. 1 overall pick.
Late drama: The Sabres tied the game with 8:23 to go as Ryan O’Reilly scored his 17th of the season, taking a strong pass from beyond the goal line from Jamie McGinn. O’Reilly beat Duncan Keith to the spot and buried a quick shot past Corey Crawford.
The defense doesn’t rest: Niklas Hjalmarsson opened the scoring for Chicago with 1:34 left in the first period, cutting down the slot to beat Johnson with a quick snapshot. It came on the tail end of a neat three-way passing play. Toews got away from Jack Eichel in the Buffalo zone to feed Erik Gustafsson, whose quick touch pass found Hjalmarsson breaking to the net after sprinting off the bench. It was Hjalmarsson’s second goal and first since Nov. 28.
January blues: In one of the more bizarre skids in franchise annals, the Sabres have lost 15 straight games in January – without earning a single loser point. Buffalo went 0-12 last January, the worst month in its history, and has dropped the first three games this month. Buffalo’s last January victory was a 3-2 triumph at Arizona on Jan. 30, 2014.
No Showtime: Kane had no points in the game, just the sixth time in 43 contests this season he was held off the score sheet.
Flashback: The last time Eichel was in United Center was Game Three of the Stanley Cup final in June, when the NHL’s top draft prospects were paraded in front of the media and met players from both teams. Eichel’s dressing room stall Friday was a few feet away from where he shook hands with Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos that afternoon.
“I had a flashback. I remember a few months ago, walking in and meeting guys on the Lightning when the Cup was here,” Eichel said. “It’s a little bit different right now but that was a pretty cool atmosphere.”
Madhouse on Madison: Coach Dan Bylsma said he was intrigued to see how his team would react to the United Center’s wild atmosphere, which starts with the crowd roaring through the national anthem. “I thought of it maybe five days ago at home when the anthem was going in our building and I was anticipating, knew we would be coming into Chicago,” he said. “Our players have talked about it too. It’s one of the best buildings and best atmospheres to play in. ... It’s a big challenge for us.”
Eichel on the Blackhawks: “They’re a super skilled team with a lot of good players. They have a lot of clutch guys, guys who make plays at the right time of the game. There’s a reason they’ve won Stanley Cups the last few years, a reason they’re good every year. It’s a team where we want to be at their level of night in and night out they can win every game. You can learn a lot from playing them.”
No jump from the gate: The NHL’s worst first-period team was at it again Friday as the Sabres were blanked despite recording 11 shots on goal and having several good chances, topped by a goalpost Evander Kane hit when cutting in alone on Corey Crawford. The Sabres have been outscored, 31-15, in the first period this season.
Counting the house: The sellout crowd of 22,142 was the Blackhawks’ second-largest of the season (standing room can make figures vary). Chicago has sold out every game since March 2008.
Up next – Brrrr: The Sabres were scheduled to fly to uber-frigid Winnipeg immediately after the game to prepare for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Jets. They will practice Saturday in the MTS Centre as temperatures outside are forecast for a high of minus-11 Fahrenheit and a low of minus-20. Sunday’s game-day forecast is a little balmier, with a high of minus-2 and a low of minus-11.