The Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres don't play each other very often, but that didn't stop them from battling like a couple of bitter rivals.
The Hawks hosted their Eastern Conference foes for the first time in more than two years Wednesday night at the United Center, and in a game filled with hard hits and a little bad blood, the Hawks came away with a 4-1 victory before a crowd of 21,684. The triumph was the second in a row for the Hawks as they improved to 14-2-4 at home and 24-10-7 overall.
Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist, and Patrick Sharp, Martin Havlat and James Wisniewski added goals. But it was the penalty-killing unit that saved the day and carried the momentum, negating a six-minute man advantage for the Sabres midway through the second period with the Hawks leading 3-1.
After Buffalo's Drew Stafford leveled defenseman Duncan Keith in the Sabres' zone and appeared to get his elbow up in the process, Ben Eager drew penalties while retaliating. The Hawks controlled the Sabres' power play, limiting Buffalo to just one shot.
Keith was wobbly after the hit and didn't return to the game after making his way to the bench. But afterward, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he was OK.
The Hawks killed off all seven of the Sabres' power plays, but it was Stafford's hit that had the most impact.
"I thought it was a completely dirty hit," Eager said. "That team has been through it. They have seen their fair share of head shots, and that guy doesn't have many hits all year. He's a skilled guy, so I'm sure [the league] won't do anything to him. I'm sure if I was the one who hit him I probably would be sitting out for a while."
Stafford expressed concern for Keith, but he defended himself.
"I hope he's OK," Stafford said. "I'm not trying to hurt anybody, but I'm not going to let up if a guy is making a toe drag across the middle with his head down."
Toews said of the six-minute power play: "When the time ticked down, the crowd started going crazy. We built off that and had a lot of momentum."
After Buffalo took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, Sharp scored off a rebound of an Eager shot. Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime stopped Eager's attempt, but it kicked to Sharp, who sent it right back at Lalime. The goalie got a piece of it but saw the puck trickle into the net.
Toews made it 2-1 with just less than two minutes remaining in the period. The captain fired a wrist shot that hit Lalime and got caught up in his pads before it dropped at his feet and into the net.
Early in the second period Havlat gave the Hawks a 3-1 advantage when the winger carried the puck from center ice down the left side and lifted a wrist shot over Lalime's right shoulder.
The Hawks struck quickly in the third to end the scoring. Just 17 seconds into the final period Toews found an open Wisniewski inside the blue line and hit him with a pass that the defenseman powered past Lalime with a one-timer.
"We stuck to our guns and the way we play hockey," Toews said. "We got that lead, and we kept working and never got satisfied."
Blackhawks 4, Sabres 1