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All Eyes on Me: Blackhawks vs. Sabres Preview

It’s almost over.

Chicago Blackhawks v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Rob Marczynski/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks wrap up another disappointing season with a final game against the Buffalo Sabres Friday night at KeyBank Center.

Although this has been another season near the bottom of the standings for the Sabres, they have been on a bit of a positive swing as of late. They just had a four-game winning streak snapped Thursday night with a 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. The Sabres did pepper Linus Ullmark with 37 shots on goal, but the Boston goalie was a wall while a Patrice Bergeron hat trick put the game away easily. Still, the Sabres played decently well Thursday despite the final score, and they’ll want to get back into the win column to close out the season.

Buffalo’s top players haven’t changed since the last time these two teams played. Tage Thompson has four goals in his last five games and 37 on the season. Jeff Skinner is one goal shy of hitting 30 for the first time in three seasons. Victor Olofsson moved up to third in Sabres scoring for the season with eight points (2 G, 6 A) in his last five games, bringing his season total to 49 points. Alex Tuch has improved from 0.76 to 0.78 points-per-game for the season, Dylan Cozens has declined slightly from 0.49 to 0.47, while Peyton Krebs (0.47) and Casey Mittelstadt (0.46) have stayed at exactly the same rate of point production.

On defense, the main difference since the last time the Blackhawks saw the Sabres is the addition of Owen Power to the Buffalo blue line. The 2021 No.1 overall pick has played in seven games since his season with the University of Michigan ended, playing mostly with either Ramus Dahlin or Henri Jokiharju in that span.

In net, the Sabres have been going back-and-forth between Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski over their last five games, and despite their low save-percentage numbers — .876 and .904, respectively — they’ve been strong with saving more than double the expected goals against.

These teams last met on March 28, when the Blackhawks lost 6-5 after the Blackhawks squandered a four-goal lead and then allowed the game-winning goal against with only 12 seconds remaining. The Blackhawks have struggled to defend a lead much of the season, but over the final 20 games it’s been especially difficult: they’ve blown 15 leads in their last 16 games with only the 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday being the exception. The Blackhawks even blew three different leads in their last game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, but at least they were able to secure a 4-3 shootout win. Still, even though this season was lost within the first 12 games, that’s not a great trend to end the season on, so let’s hope they can prevent themselves from falling prey to it one last time in Buffalo.

Despite the trend of blown leads, the Blackhawks are on their first winning streak in over a month and have managed to win three in their last five games. Usually this is where we talk about how Patrick Kane’s line is the only line scoring — and Kane did have yet another season contributing the most to the Blackhawks goals — but it was the other longest-tenured player for Chicago that has been at the top of their points: Jonathan Toews leads the Blackhawks with five points (1 G, 4 A) in the last five games, all at 5-on-5. Kane and his primary linemate Alex DeBrincat are still tied for second in points with four each, but the Toews’ line has been better away from special teams.

Sam Lafferty — who was extended for two more years with the Blackhawks Friday morning — with three assists and Dominik Kubalik with a goal and two assists have also been performing well in the last five games while rotating with Toews — who is celebrating his 34th birthday on Friday.

The biggest improvement has been in net, though, with Kevin Lankinen stopping 118 of 129 shots faced in the last five games for a .915 save-percentage. Lankinen has been especially good in the last two games when he faced 6.23 expected goals against but allowed less than two against on average. However, Colin Delia will be in net for the Blackhawks on Friday, and his performance has been a bit worse: a .886 save-percentage with four goals against versus 3.08 expected in his last start on April 21 against the Los Angeles Kings, and a .896 save-percentage while allowing 19 goals against — versus 13.9 expected — in seven total NHL games this season.

The only other lineup change from the previous game is that Erik Gustafsson will draw back in to replace Alec Regula, who was reassigned to Rockford. Calvin de Haan will end his season out of the lineup due to nagging injuries.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Sabres

46.07% (28th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 48.35% (20th)

45.67% (28th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 44.74% (31st)

2.60 (27th) — Goals per game — 2.79 (22nd)

3.53 (26th) — Goals against per game — 3.52 (25th)

49.6% (17th) — Faceoffs — 46.0% (32nd)

19.3% (19th) — Power play — 21.5% (16th)

75.9% (24th) — Penalty kill — 76.3% (23rd)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Kubalik — Toews — T. Johnson

Kurashev — Lafferty — Raddysh

Borgstrom — R. Johnson — Katchouk

Vlasic — S. Jones

McCabe — Regula

C. Jones — Gustafsson

Delia

Lankinen

Sabres

Skinner — Thompson — Olofsson

Krebs — Middlestadt — Tuch

Asplund — Cozens — Hayden

Bjork — Girgensons — Hinostroza

Samuelsson — Dahlin

Power — Jokiharju

Bryson — Fitzgerald

Anderson/Tokarski

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+