Buffalo Sabres

Four takeaways: Blackhawks live to fight another day with shootout win over Sabres

Four takeaways: Blackhawks live to fight another day with shootout win over Sabres

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-4 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on Thursday:

1. Live to fight another day

It wasn't pretty. The Blackhawks went up 2-0, then down 3-2, then tied it at 3-3, went back down 4-3 in the third period and eventually tied it back up at 4-4 before sealing the victory in a shootout. But they'll take it.

Every game feels like a do or die at this point, and even though they didn't gain any ground in whatever's left of their playoff race, the Blackhawks are happy that they lived to fight another day.

"Two points for the team, keeps us in it," Patrick Kane said. "We knew it was kind of a must win tonight. We get the two points, we know we can be better and get some confidence going into Dallas."

2. Balance evident under new lines

The Blackhawks rolled out a new set of lines on Thursday. The goal was to even out the ice time and find more balance in the lineup with Drake Caggiula (concussion) out. It's fair to say they got what they were looking for. 

Artem Anisimov scored twice for the first time all season, Brendan Perlini notched his third goal in as many games after scoring only three goals in his first 29 games with the Blackhawks and even Duncan Keith chipped in for his fourth goal of the season to double last year's total. Plus, only one player logged fewer than 10 minutes of ice time and that was John Hayden, who started the game on the first line.

That's the kind of secondary scoring and minutes distribution the Blackhawks have been looking for all season, which helps alleviate the pressure from the top guys.

"I think we did some good things," coach Jeremy Colliton said of the new lines. "I really liked the checking line, [David Kampf's] line. They were great. They went head to head with [Jack] Eichel all night. We looked pretty under control throughout the whole game. I think that's been an issue for us lately playing against top competition. That's been hurting us. If we can get that sorted out then we got the horses on the other lines to come through."

3. Special teams woes

The Blackhawks made it a priority to work on their penalty kill during Wednesday's practice. They're last in the league in that department, and have been for a while now.

But the power play hasn't been as effective as of late. Converting at a 40 percent clip was never going to be sustainable, but the real concern is that they've allowed three shorthanded goals in their last six games and have scored only four while on the power play for a plus-1 differential.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-5 on the power play against the Sabres, and allowed a shorthanded goal. They're in a little bit of a weird rut right now.

"Tonight I just think we were a little bit late to react to get back and then just kind of a sorting situation where there was a little bit of confusion," Colliton said. "And then obviously the guy made a good play but he was there by himself. We were a little bit out of sync tonight on the power play. We still had some good looks, we didn't convert. That was a tough one to give up."

4. Patrick Kane back on track

After being held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games and three of the last four contests, Kane bounced back in a nice way. He registered a pair of assists for his 27th multi-point outing of the season, and surpassed Steve Larmer for fourth on the Blackhawks all-time points list with 924 — only Stan Mikita (1,467), Bobby Hull (1,153) and Denis Savard (1,096) have more.

Kane now has 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 17 career games against his hometown Sabres, six of which have come in their two meetings this season. And it was fitting that it came on a day where he skated in his 888th career NHL game.

"It's special," Kane said of his latest achievement. "Larmer was a great player, probably should be in the Hall of Fame. Obviously had a great career here with the Blackhawks and one of those guys who played the game the right way. To get by him is pretty special. Just keep trucking along here, hopefully rack up some more points as my career goes on. More importantly tonight, you know got the two points to keep us in the race and gets confidence from that."

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

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USA TODAY

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.

Gustav Forsling has big night in a game Blackhawks 'had to win'

Gustav Forsling has big night in a game Blackhawks 'had to win'

Gustav Forsling couldn't have picked a better night to record three points, including the game-winning goal.

Forsling helped the Blackhawks snap their five-game losing streak with a big, comeback win in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the United Center.

Already with a helper on Alex DeBrincat's goal in the second period, Forsling made his presence known in the third period and overtime.

With the Blackhawks on the penalty kill and trailing 2-1, Tommy Wingels redirected Forsling's shot from the point with 3:22 left in the third. Tie game.

Then in overtime, with 4.9 seconds left, Forsling sealed it when another shot from the point went under the pads of Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner. Ballgame. Blackhawks win 3-2.

Entering Friday, the Blackhawks were 0-3-2 in their last five games. It was their worst losing streak since 2011-12, when they lost nine games in a row.

Could the Blackhawks — who are now 13-11-5 and fifth in the Central Division — have used a bigger win than that?

"We had to win," coach Joel Quenneville said after the game.

Was this game the Blackhawks needed to turn things around?