Close games nothing new for Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Returning nearly every player from last season’s Stanley Cup championship team was expected to benefit the Chicago Blackhawks in a variety of ways this season.

So far it has in one aspect.

The Blackhawks were one of the league’s best teams in one-goal games last season. They won the Western Conference by going 19-3-5 in one-goal games in the regular season and captured the Stanley Cup behind a 9-2 record in one-goal games in the playoffs.

Two weeks into the new season, Chicago already is leaning on that experience of playing in tight games. Following their 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, the Blackhawks have had one-goal games in four of their first five games and have built a 2-1-1 record in them.

“There’s no easy night in the league,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Parity, the closeness, you can’t take shifts off; you can’t take nights off for sure.

“It’s early on in the season, but don’t think you’re going to get an easy two points out there at all.”

One of the main reasons for the Blackhawks’ success in close games last season was goaltender Corey Crawford. He often was the one keeping the Blackhawks’ one-goal lead intact.

On Saturday, Crawford again came to the rescue. After only seeing six shots in the first period, Crawford was tested throughout the second and third periods and held strong. The Sabres had 23 shots on goal over the last two periods and Crawford stopped 22 of them.

“I think he’s always a guy we know who is going to bring his A game,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It’s just a matter of how the rest of us are going to play in front of him. He’s been so solid for us all last year and the beginning of this season. We know we got a great goalie.”

While the Blackhawks will take every win they can get, they did feel like the past few games they were unable to deliver a knockout blow with an additional goal. They had a similar problem against the New York Islanders on Friday and settled for a one-goal win.

“It’d be nice to score that third goal,” Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. “I think sometimes we might think about that too much, and you start thinking too much on the offensive side and giving up more chances defensively. I think we got to be better at that. “We had some chances to make it 3-1 tonight. I don’t think we got the shots we wanted to or didn’t get them through to the net. Hopefully, that will come as the season goes on.

“I think we have a lot of confidence in what we did last year in these close games. We just need to come out and win them. Hopefully, we’ll get a little bit better at preserving them.”