Phillip Danault's game-winner lifts Blackhawks to sixth straight win


Phillip Danault's game-winner lifts Blackhawks to sixth straight win

Lately, Phillip Danault felt like he was close to scoring his first career NHL goal.

He’d had his chances, his close calls. It was only a matter of time. And on Friday, his timing couldn’t have been better.

Danault’s first goal proved to be the game-winner, as the Blackhawks beat the Buffalo Sabres, 3-1, on Friday night. It was a strong end for the Blackhawks, who have won a season-high six consecutive games. They remain in second place in the Central Division

Niklas Hjalmarsson had a goal — his second of the season — and an assist. Corey Crawford stopped 28 of 29 shots for the victory. Jonathan Toews added an empty-net goal with 24.5 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Blackhawks and Sabres were tied, 1-1, with about five minutes remaining in regulation when Danault slipped past a Sabres player and beat Chad Johnson top shelf. For Danault, whose first game this season was against the Sabres in Buffalo on Dec. 19, that first goal couldn’t have been any better — or bigger.

“Yeah, honestly the last three to four games I felt like it was coming,” Danault said. “It ended up going in today, and it feels great.”

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Danault was frustrated for another reason a few minutes prior to that. He and line mates Andrew Desjardins and Teuvo Teravainen were on the ice when Ryan O’Reilly tied the game at 11:37 of the third. But coach Joel Quenneville threw that line back out there fewer than four minutes later, leading to Danault’s goal.

“I was trying to remember the last time (that line) gave up a goal. Things can happen. But I liked the response,” Quenneville said. “You get a goal like that it really can lift your team and the timing of it. He made a nice play earlier on a comparable play when he went off the rush, but great move on the individual rush off the defense, made a quick shot short side. The timing was great. It turned out to be a huge win for us, as well, and congrats to him.”

Hjalmarsson gave the Blackhawks the early lead off a pass from another young guy who’s played very well: Erik Gustafsson.

“That’s the one thing that stands out with him is the confidence he plays with. It’s really impressive,” Hjalmarsson said. “The pass he made to me, I never thought I was going to get the puck actually. I was very surprised. He’s another guy who’s been playing really well for us.”

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The Blackhawks are playing with that confidence throughout the lineup right now. Things are coming together. They’re playing well defensively and getting just enough offense. The start of the season had its rough moments, but the Blackhawks are finding their way. And a couple of young guys are adding big contributions.

“It’s a big achievement,” Danault said of his first goal. “I’ve been working hard a lot, and it happened today.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start


Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."