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Corey Crawford comes up big late as Blackhawks beat Sabres

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Updated: October 12, 2013 11:24PM



There are things Corey Crawford can do on nights like this, nights in which all the action seems to be about 150 feet down the ice, with eons passing between shots in his direction.

He can talk with his teammates and direct traffic. He can come out of the net to play the puck more often. He can try counting to 21,261, one fan at a time.

But Crawford knows better than to relax. In the NHL, even the worst team eventually will make a push.

‘‘It’s never an easy game,’’ Crawford said.

No, Crawford didn’t match the Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan Miller save for save in the Hawks’ 2-1 victory Saturday at the United Center. He didn’t have to. But when he finally was called upon, Crawford was alert and ready, making 28 saves — including several down the stretch — as a sleepy game came to a hairy end.

The Hawks overcame a 38-save performance by Miller and suffocated the NHL’s worst offense for most of the game before closing out their second victory in as many nights.

But it was a frantic end to a one-sided game. The Hawks, playing their third game in four nights, were utterly dominant to start, peppering Miller with 20 shots in the first period. But only Ben Smith was able to get one past him, deflecting a shot by Brent Seabrook for his first goal of the season.

For the winless Sabres, who have scored only six goals in six games, were offside on a two-on-none break and iced the puck on a third-period power play, that essentially proved to be an insurmountable lead.

But Miller did everything possible to keep the Sabres in the game, turning aside wave after wave of Hawks chances. After making 19 saves in the first period, he made 16 in the second before the Hawks finally got a much-needed insurance goal with 24.9 seconds left when Patrick Kane scored on a power play off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Patrick Sharp, who was playing in his 600th game.

Crawford made sure that two was enough in this one. After having precious little to do for the first 30 minutes, he was tested several times in the second half of the second period, twice stopping Steve Ott from close range, stoning Thomas Vanek on a two-on-one, then making a glove save of a shot by Tyler Myers while in the midst of a four-player pileup.

The Sabres were the aggressors in the third period, and Drew Stafford spoiled Crawford’s shutout bid with 8:11 left. But Crawford stopped a blast by Vanek with less than five minutes to go, then disrupted Cody Hodgson’s rebound attempt. He also survived several scrambles in front of his net in the final minutes. The Sabres outshot the Hawks 13-4 in the third, but the Hawks were able to hold on to a one-goal lead for the second consecutive night.

It was a familiar story for the Hawks, who seem to have had the ice tilted in their favor for most of their games but have only nine goals in their last four games. Coach Joel Quenneville was pleased with the amount of chances generated, but he wants to see his team finish better. He said the Hawks might need to be a little ‘‘greasier’’ around the net and search for ugly goals.

Kane agreed that there’s still work to be done, no matter what the shots on goal say.

‘‘I was even talking to [Jonathan Toews] on the bench, saying it feels like we’re not in midseason form yet,’’ Kane said. ‘‘We can make better plays here or there, maybe simple little details that’ll create scoring chances. Hopefully, that’ll come as the season goes on and you play a few more games.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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