CHICAGO -- Talk about timing. With their playoff hopes basically gone and their inability to win on the road a big reason why, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves playing a game Thursday night in the NHL arena in which they've waited the longest to find another win.
How long has it been since the Sabres have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks in the United Center?
The last time it happened, Maxim Afinogenov scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory, Jonathan Toews was drafted but back at the University of North Dakota – and Patrick Kane was still five months away from being selected with the No. 1 overall pick.
The date was Jan 10, 2007. Since then, the Sabres are 0-6-2 in "the Madhouse on Madison." The last two visits have been heartbreaking, both resulting in overtime losses. Last season's was a killer, with Gustav Forsling's goal with 4.9 seconds left in OT foiling then-Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner in a 3-2 defeat after he had made 48 saves.
Overall, it's been a brutal stretch against Chicago as the Sabres are 1-10-3 in the last 14 meetings against the Hawks. Their 5-3 win in KeyBank Center on March 17, 2018, snapped a 12-game skid against Chicago. The first meeting this year on Feb. 1 in Buffalo saw the Hawks pull away for a 7-3 win.
Faceoff tonight is shortly after 8:30 on MSG and WGR Radio.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. In the nets: Corey Crawford (7-15-2, 3.39/.897) is hardly the same goalie who won Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015, but he's been a world-beater against the Sabres and gets another chance to show that tonight. In his career against Buffalo, Crawford is 9-0 in nine starts with a 1.86 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. The Sabres will counter with Carter Hutton (16-18-4, 2.82/.911) after Linus Ullmark started the last three games. Hutton is 1-2-1, 2.71/.906 in four career games against Chicago.
2. Lineup news: Vladimir Sobotka (three games, upper body) and Zach Bogosian (one game, lower body) both return to the lineup tonight with Johan Larsson and Matt Hunwick sitting as healthy scratches. That means Casey Nelson, who had a strong game Monday against Edmonton in his first game sine Dec. 4, will stay in the lineup paired with Rasmus Dahlin.
"I thought Casey had a terrific game," coach Phil Housley said today of Nelson, who had an even rating and 82 percent Corsi rating in Monday's loss to Edmonton. "It was excellent. When Rasmus and Casey were together early in the season before he got hurt, they really jelled well together. They had some chemistry and it was good to see they got that chemistry right back."
3. The Kane Chronicles: South Buffalo native Patrick Kane is third in the NHL in goals (40), eighth in assists (54) and second in points (94). He had two goals and two assists in the Hawks' win in Buffalo last month, and needs two points tonight to pass Steve Larmer and move into fourth place in Chicago history with 924. He'll be behind only three legends: Stan Mikita (1,467), Bobby Hull (1,153) and Denis Savard (1,096).
Kane is third in the NHL in minutes per game among forwards (22:30) and has played fewer than 20 minutes just five times in Jeremy Colliton's 51 games as coach. He had a 20-game point streak snapped Feb. 24 vs. Dallas and had just one point (a goal) with a minus-6 rating on the team's three-game Western trip, leading to lots of talk in these parts that the 30-year-old is wearing out.
"I feel good. I was playing good there for a while," Kane said. "Didn't have a great road trip obviously but I still feel confident about my game. I'm not feeling tired or anything. When they tell me I go out there, I will."
4. What happened in the races? The Hawks used a 10-2 stretch to get back into the race and it was capped by a Kane overtime winner Feb. 20 in Detroit that actually put Chicago in a tie for the final West wild-card spot. Since then, however, the Hawks have gone 1-4 and given up 23 goals in the five games. In a span of 16 days, they've gone from tied for the playoffs to nine points out.
"It's easy to do the math and not get a good feeling when you look at the standings," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews. "But we could have said that a long time ago this season. ... The mistakes we're making are easy to correct.
"We've got a lot of things going for us. We're still confident, have a lot of purpose. If we have a good week coming up, things can flip the other way."
The Sabres have gone 2-7-1 in their last 10 games – tied with Ottawa and ahead of only Los Angeles (1-6-3) for the worst marks in the NHL. They enter Thursday 11 points out of a wild-card spot with 16 games left. They are 11-18-4 on the road for the season, including 3-14-3 in their last 20 away from KeyBank Center.
5. By the numbers: Jack Eichel leads the Sabres in assists (47) and points (72) while Jeff Skinner (36 goals) has now gone nine games without a goal. Toews is second on the Hawks in assists and points (29-38-67) while Alex DeBrincat (36-29-65) is second in goals. ... The Hawks are last in the NHL in goals-against (3.74) and on the penalty kill (72.8 percent). They have given up four goals or more in a game a stunning 38 times while the opponent's yield has been five or more 18 times. ... Bears watching: The Sabres have a plus-8 goal differential in the first period (61-53) while the Hawks are minus-19 (90-71). Buffalo is minus-19 in the second period (78-59) while Chicago is just minus-3 (73-70). ... Chicago has been oddly poor at home this year (14-13-6).