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.”