BUFFALO, N.Y. – Corey Crawford’s nerves helped the defending Stanley Cup champions get their first win of the season.
Crawford shrugged off a shaky start to get his second career NHL win, Marian Hossa scored twice, and Nick Leddy got his first career NHL goal in Chicago’s 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.
The game was marred by a scary moment in the first period when Sabres right-wing Jason Pominville was carted off on a stretcher after being hit into the boards from behind by Chicago defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson with 5:42 to go.
Pominville was skating toward the puck near the right boards in the Buffalo zone 20 feet inside the blue line when Hjalmarsson sent him flying into the boards, causing his head to hit the glass violently.
Pominville sustained a concussion and a gash above his eye that required 7-8 stitches on the play, while Hjalmarsson was given a 5-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. The Sabres were unable to capitalize on the man advantage.
Hjalmarsson could face a suspension after the league reviews the controversial hit.
“You never want to see someone laying on the ice like that,” Hjalmarsson said. “I thought it was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. It’s good to know that he’s up and walking, and hopefully he’ll get back as soon as possible.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff didn’t speculate whether or not he thinks Hjalmarsson will be suspended.
“It’ll be interesting,” he said. “(Hjalmarsson) made a big mistake. He caught a player in a tough spot.”
Crawford, meanwhile, admitted that he was plenty nervous at the beginning of his first start of the season, and ninth NHL appearance. Allowing a pair of goals in the game’s first 2:43 didn’t help much, but the rookie settled down to finish with 32 saves.
“A little panic sets into your head, but you have to try and brush that away,” Crawford said. “I just kept battling and stuck with it.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he was thinking about pulling Crawford in favour of veteran Marty Turco, but was happy he stuck with the 25-year-old.
“All those options go through your mind,” Quenneville said. “It was a tough start, but we persevered.”
Crawford helped preserve the win with a sparkling left pad save on Buffalo forward Mike Grier’s attempt from the slot with just over three minutes to go, and the Blackhawks allowed just one shot during a Sabres power play that began with 2:28 to go and with Miller off for an extra attacker for the majority of the advantage.
“What a save he made there,” Quenneville said about the Grier stop. “It was out of nowhere.”
Patrick Kane also scored for the Blackhawks, who had lost their first two games of the season.
“We really needed this win,” Hossa said. “The five-minute kill helped us, and we tightened up defensively.”
Drew Stafford and Derek Roy each had a goal and assist, and Tim Connolly also scored for the Sabres, who’ve lost two straight after a season-opening win at Ottawa.
Ryan Miller finished with 26 saves.
With Chicago up 3-2 after two periods, Hossa notched his second of the game, and third of the season, 3:36 into the third with a wrist shot from the lower left circle that went under Miller’s glove.
Connolly made it 4-3 less than two minutes later when he whipped a shot in from in tight.
Stafford opened the scoring just 14 seconds in when his wrist shot from the inner edge of the left circle eluded Crawford.
Roy made it 2-0 for Buffalo with his fourth of the season 2:29 later.
The Blackhawks responded with four straight goals, starting with Kane cutting the deficit in half with a power-play goal at 7:44 of the first.
Leddy tied it after his slap shot went off Buffalo defenceman Shaone Morrisonn’s skate near the crease four minutes into the second.
Hossa gave Chicago its first lead with 1:13 remaining in the middle frame when he went in alone from the blue-line and slipped a shot from the slot past Miller.
“They wound up getting one off their skate, but that’s what happens when you getpucks on the net,” Sabres captain Craig Rivet said. “We would like to take a few of those situations back.”
NOTES: These two teams will play again on Saturday in Chicago. It’s the first time since 2002-03 they’ve met twice in one season. … Sabres C Jochen Hecht played in his 700th career NHL game. … Pominville entered the game as Buffalo’s active leader in consecutive games played with 335. … The Blackhawks won for just the second time in the past six meetings with the Sabres.