Sabres vs. Blackhawks recap: Kane propels Chicago to comeback victory
Kane's late goal in regulation and shootout goal gave the Blackhawks the victory.
The Sabres were so close to beating the Blackhawks, so very close. Then Patrick Kane took over, answering the boos he met in his hometown.
The Sabres were on the ropes in the final two minutes of regulation, after two penalties were rightly called against John Gorges and Rasmus Ristolainen. Buffalo was forced to go down 5-on-3 - 6-on-3 once the Blackhawks pulled their goalie - and the Sabres could only hold on for so long. Ryan O'Reilly nearly sealed the deal with an empty net shot from his own zone that just went wide. A possession later the Sabres got scambly in the defensive zone, and Artemi Panarin found Kane in prime real estate. He blew the puck past Johnson with 34 seconds left in regulation.
After a rather uneventful OT period, Kane was the only player on either side to score. It was a beautiful goal that showed off the stickhandling ability that has him in the MVP conversation. O'Reilly shot wide, and Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons both were stopped pretty easily by Crawford.
It's likely the first time Kane has been booed while coming home to Buffalo, as the crowd opinion has been turned by the allegations this summer. However, it was tough to not run into someone in the stands with a No. 88 jersey. In fact, the amount of opposing jerseys as a whole would compete with a Maple Leafs game.
Patrick Kane on being booed: pic.twitter.com/XXtHMjV5ld— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) December 19, 2015
It's a frustrating loss for the Sabres, who looked like the better team for the last two periods. O'Reilly gave the Sabres the 2-1 lead with three minutes remaining in the third, capping off a beautiful passing play by him, Sam Reinhart and Jake McCabe. Reinhart was able to set up O'Reilly perfectly feet away from Crawford with a pass from behind the net.
Speaking of McCabe, he had one of his best games of the season. He played 21 minutes for the Sabres, and did a good job shutting down Chicago's top guns.
Just like everyone expected, Dennis Rasmussen scored the first goal of the game for Chicago. He was able to fly past a tired Evander Kane, covering for Josh Gorges, to score a nifty goal on Johnson. Ristolainen had a chance of getting to him, but slid just a bit too late.
The second period was much better from the Sabres perspective. The Sabres outshot Chicago 14 to nine, getting nearly three times as many shots on Crawford as they had in the first. The line of Larsson - Girgensons - Gionta had one of the best Sabres possessions in a while, holding the puck in the Chicago end for nearly two minutes.
Cody Franson caught Crawford napping six minutes into the period, shooting a puck from the side boards for his third goal of the season.
Bylsma wasn't happy with the two penalties late, because they were the second and third of the game. None-the-less, they were penalties, and incredibly ill-timed ones.
There was an automatic challenge on the tying Kane goal, since the clock was under two minutes. The refs were looking for goalie interference, but it was clear that Toews ended up in Johnson's way because Franson had cross checked him in the back. Despite the goal, Franson was still forced to serve the penalty, which extended into the OT frame.
O'Reilly, despite another game where it felt he was always on the ice, was upset with himself after the game. He was particularly bothered with missing in the shootout, claiming that that's not leadership.
Despite the outcome, there are more positives for the Sabres in this game than negatives. Buffalo is off for six days for the holiday break, returning on the 26th to play Boston.
1. Can Ennis make an impact in his first game back?
Dan Bylsma said he was happy with how Ennis played, but his contributions didn't show up on the score sheet. He played 15 minutes, had three shots and failed to score in the shootout.
2. How will Chad Johnson follow up his 44-save shutout performance?
Johnson was solid tonight, keeping the Sabres in the game. You can't really blame him for the 6-on-3 goal, and he was left to dry a bit on the Rasmussen goal as well.
3. Will Jonathan Toews dominate the Sabres again?
Toews wasn't involved in any of the Blackhawks goals tonight, and his shootout attempt was stopped by Johnson.