The Buffalo Sabres were able to hang with one of the best teams in the NHL on Sunday, but a few critical mistakes cost them the game.
Patrick Kane scored 3:12 into the game and Jonathan Toews scored the game-winner 1:34 into the third period to give the Chicago Blackhawks a 2-1 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Tyler Ennis thought he made it 1-1 at the 5:23 mark of the first period only to have the goal called back.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford mishandled the puck in front of his net and Ennis was able to collect it and put it in behind him. However, the officials ruled that Crawford fumbled because Ennis hooked him to force the turnover.
The goal was immediately waved off and Ennis was sent to the penalty box.
“He kind of lost a handle on it. It didn’t really have anything to do with my slash, I guess you could call it,” Ennis said. “I had one hand on my stick but that was a tough call. Obviously that was the difference in the game.”
Ennis’ line did tie the game 3:48 later when Drew Stafford knocked in a centering feed from newly acquired wing Cory Conacher.
With his 11th goal of the season, Stafford has 13 points (7+6) in his last 14 games. Ennis has remained hot as well. He’s put up 10 points (4+6) in his last 11 games and 18 points (8+10) in his last 21.
“They’re one of the best teams in the League and we all know how the year’s gone for us. A lot of people might’ve written us off for this game,” Stafford said. “We had respect for them, but at the same time, we wanted to prove we can still make it a tough game for them.”
The game was the first for Conacher in a Sabres uniform since the team claimed him off waivers on Wednesday.
“Those guys are pretty easy to play with,” Conacher, who played collegiate hockey at Canisius College in Buffalo said. “I told [Ennis] this morning actually that he was one of my favorites to watch when I was at Cansisius and it nice to get the chance to play with him. And just a couple more practices, that chemistry will build. ”
Conacher played 15:02 including 3:28 on the power play and recorded three shots.
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan was pleased with Conacher’s debut.
“He has a little vinegar in him. He competes hard and that’s the one thing with us. We just need some people who compete,” he said.
Nolan also once again praised the efforts of rookie Nicolas Deslauriers, whom the team acquired from the Lost Angeles Kings on Thursday. Deslauriers played 12:13 and registered three hits.
“You look at Deslauriers, for a young kid too, his second game in the National Hockey League, he competed out there. You can never go wrong when you have guys that love to compete.”
With the game tied 1-1 heading into the third period, the Sabres were feeling pretty good about themselves. However some quick passing between Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Toews in the Buffalo zone led to Toews’ go-ahead tally early in the third.
“We knew we had a good chance and they got one break there,” Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth, who made 29 saves, said. “It was a pretty goal by them, but it’s too bad we couldn’t battle back like we’ve been doing the last couple games. It is what it is. They’re a really good team over there.”
Buffalo got into penalty trouble in the second period, taking three minor penalties that Nolan thought took them out of the flow of the game a bit.
Even though they lost the game, many players on the team felt that they were able to show the League that, despite being in 30 th place, there isn’t any quit in their locker room.
“It could’ve went either way and right now that’s the main goal – is to just earn the respect from other teams,” Conacher said. “Obviously we might not make the playoffs, but we want to win as many games as we can going into the summer and just to gain the respect from only the League, but players that are maybe looking to come here in their future.”
For the younger players on the team, Nolan thought that there were many lessons to be learned from the match against Chicago, the reigning Stanley Cup champion.
“It’s not a sometime thing, winning. It’s an all-the-time thing. If you let off the gas pedal, if you have bad shift or two, it’s going to come and bite you pretty good,” he said. “…[Chicago is] one of the premier teams in the League and it shows you how far we have to go yet.”
The Sabres take the ice again Tuesday night when the Nashville Predators come to town at 7 p.m.