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Blackhawks dominant top to bottom in rout of Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. — After Marian Hossa somehow slipped the puck past goaltender Robin Lehner with a sneaky wrist shot from the right dot, he didn’t raise his arms in triumph, didn’t pump his fist, didn’t even smile. He just skated, almost sheepishly, toward the bench.

After Patrick Kane left Lehner flailing helplessly like a fish out of water with a dizzying bit of stickhandling, he punched the air and yelled, “It’s showtime!” in giddy celebration.

Hossa’s was the go-ahead goal. Kane’s made it 5-1.

“I don’t even know what I was saying after that — kind of blacked out in that moment,” Kane joked. “A little bit too jacked up for a 5-1 goal, too.”

Jonathan Toews puts the puck past Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner during the second period of Sunday's game. (AP Photo)

But, hey, hockey’s fun when things are going well. And things are going well for the Blackhawks these days, with their 5-1 rout of Kane’s hometown Buffalo Sabres their sixth win in seven games and their second consecutive strong performance out of the bye week. The Hawks’ first four goals came from four lines, Jonathan Toews continued his hot streak, Kane reached the 20-goal plateau for the 10th straight season and Scott Darling made 25 saves for the victory Sunday — the Hawks’ 11th in a row over Buffalo and the 399th of Joel Quenneville’s Hawks tenure.

Quenneville talks a lot about the Hawks being at their best when they’re rolling four lines. They’re even better when all four lines are rolling.

“I think this is what the coaches were trying to find since the beginning, trying to find four lines that can score,” said Richard Panik, who had an eventful night with two penalties, several golden scoring chances and an assist. “And now, finally, every line is playing unreal.”

The win was especially validating after Saturday night’s dominant effort against the Edmonton Oilers ended in a hard-luck loss. The Minnesota Wild — Tuesday’s opponent in another Central Division showdown — keep piling up wins and might seem almost out of reach, but the way the Hawks see it, if they keep playing the way they’ve been playing the last few weeks, it might not matter.

“That’s kind of the identity of our team — when we’ve got four lines going, we play really well and are hard to stop,” Ryan Hartman said. “We’ve just got to keep that up.”

Hartman got things going with a filthy under-the-bar snipe from the right dot. It was Hartman’s 14th goal, all of them at even strength. Only the top two picks in the draft, budding superstars Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, have more even-strength goals among rookies than Hartman, the 30th pick in the 2013 draft. It was one of his prettiest, too.

“It’s one of my better ones,” Hartman said. “We had a good screen. I don’t think he even saw it. He just reacted to the sound of it hitting behind him.”

But after the Hawks killed off an 88-second five-on-three advantage, Buffalo tied it up with only 5.6 seconds left in the first period when Evander Kane knocked in a spinning backhanded centering feed from Jack Eichel.

That did little to slow the Hawks’ momentum. Hossa scored his 21st goal at 9:40 of the second period to make it 2-1, and Toews stuffed in a Panik rebound to make it 3-1. Toews has five goals and 11 assists in his last 11 games.

The Hawks’ vaunted second line got in on the fun in the third period, with Artem Anisimov completing a tic-tac-toe passing play from Artemi Panarin and Kane to make it 4-1 at 3:29 and Kane juking Lehner out of his shorts three minutes later — a well-celebrated exclamation point to another encouraging performance.

And whether the standings reflect it or not, the Hawks feel they’re on the rise.

“We’re playing our best hockey,” Quenneville said.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @MarkLazerus