CHICAGO – For 40 minutes, the game was pretty much up for grabs.
Then came the third period and the Chicago Blackhawks pulled away from the Buffalo Sabres in convincing fashion. The Blackhawks scored four goals in the third to snap a tie and win 6-2 in front of 22,012 fans at United Center.
The Sabres were heavily outshot – the final total favored Chicago 47-23 – but they had many opportunities, particularly on the power play in the third, to make a statement. The Sabres power play went 0-for-4 with all four opportunities coming in the final 20 minutes.
“We were just out of sync,” Sabres forward Tyler Ennis, who scored one of Buffalo’s goals, said. “We couldn’t get in the zone, we were sloppy. Their kill was good but I think our entries were the problem. We couldn’t get in and [it's] not good enough.”
Patrick Kane snapped the 2-2 tie 5:58 into the third period. Then Marian Hossa capitalized shorthanded on a 2-on-1 break. Patrick Sharp added a power-play goal midway through the period before Daniel Carcillo tallied later on.
Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth made 41 saves.
“Old habits are hard to break. It was almost like we were content to keep it close,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “In the third period, their star players turned it up a notch. We didn’t.”
Coming off a 3-1 opening night loss to Columbus at home, the Sabres hoped for a better result on Saturday. Like the game against Chicago, that game was tied heading into the final frame.
“We just have to be confident,” Ennis said. “The same thing happened against Columbus. We sat back and when you’re tentative, you’re going to lose. We’ve got to shore things up for sure defensively.”
The players hope they can learn from these games and then be able to grow from them sooner rather than later.
“We have to as a group, learn to be comfortable in those tight situations because 95 percent of the games are going to be those types of games – tied games, one-goal games,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “We have to be confident and comfortable playing in those games and sometimes it sucks. You’ve got to go through this to learn how to do it the right way.
“But you can’t too long so we’ve got to learn from tonight and be ready to go for Monday.”
A ROCKY START
The Blackhawks were celebrating their home opener are now 12-6-1-1 in first games of the year at United Center. They’ve also beaten Buffalo in each of their past six meetings.
Buffalo is now 18-25-1 all-time in road openers. The team hadn’t opened their road schedule in Chicago since Oct. 9, 1980, a game in which they lost 4-3.
From the get-go, it looked like the Blackhawks were going to pile on often. Andrew Shaw deflected a shot in just 59 seconds into the game to make it 1-0. With the crowd behind them, the Blackhawks struck again at the 2:52 mark to go ahead 2-0 when Duncan Keith’s shot from the point found its way into the back of the net.
“We knew they were going to come out hard. It was their home opener tonight and it’s a great hockey team we were playing tonight,” Gorges said. “We knew we had to weather the storm early.”
A goal from Zemgus Girgensons brought the Sabres back to life. Buffalo worked the puck out of their own end and Girgensons was able to bang home a rebound off an Andrej Meszaros shot.
“The reason we came back was a guy like Girgensons,” Nolan said. “The one thing a lot of people can take from him is his effort. He just works and if you get everybody to do that then we’ll be OK, but whatever reason, we had too many passengers tonight.”
Then Ennis struck for the first shorthanded goal of his career. Before the game, Nolan said that in order for Ennis to take the next step in his development, he’s going to have to be relied upon in many different situations.
Ennis had never played on the penalty kill prior to this year’s training camp but assistant coach Bryan Trottier saw it as a great opportunity for Ennis, who had never really killed penalties before. The Sabres scored five shorthanded goals all of last season, tying them for 19th in the League.
The personnel shift paid off in a big way Saturday night. With 1:20 left in the first period, Blackhawks forward Brad Richards mishandled the puck at the blue line and Sabres forward Drew Stafford was able to get the puck up to Ennis. He then raced in on a breakaway and beat Corey Crawford to score.
“When I saw it get fumbled and Staff got it, I jumped and saw a chance at maybe a breakaway. The puck was bobbling but Staff got it to me,” Ennis said. “I was trying to settle it down too and just make a move. I was happy it went in but disappointed with the loss.”
NEW PAIRINGS ON THE HORIZON?
Defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Strachan have been healthy scratches for both games. Nolan said tweaks to the lineup may be made to get at least one of them in.
“You might see a change,” he said. “That’s two games where we can’t continue going this way.”
Buffalo’s next game is Monday at 3 p.m. against the Anaheim Ducks at First Niagara Center.