The last three of the Chicago Blackhawks' five straight wins have been due in large part to defense. That doesn't bode well for a Buffalo Sabres team that's seen its offense dry up during a five-game losing streak.
The Blackhawks try for their ninth consecutive victory and sixth in a row at home in the series as they continue a four-game stretch at United Center on Friday night.
Chicago (25-13-4) defeated Pittsburgh for the second consecutive night Wednesday, winning 3-1 behind a second straight two-goal game from rookie Artemi Panarin and 17 saves from backup Scott Darling. The Blackhawks have given up three goals in the past three victories after allowing eight in first two of their streak.
"We're playing a little bit better in our own end, keeping pucks to the outside, defensive zone puck management ... so I think we're pretty pleased right now," forward Andrew Desjardins said.
Chicago allowed 31 shots Wednesday, but had 37 itself and had given up 26 or fewer in the previous three games. The club has outshot four consecutive opponents.
The offense was handled for the second straight night by Panarin, who leads NHL rookies with 15 goals and 38 points. He managed two goals in his previous 13 before getting two in a 3-2 win Tuesday and turning in an identical performance Wednesday.
"We knew he was a special player right from the outset," linemate Patrick Kane told the team's official website. "Couple (of) big games by him (and) a couple huge goals. I'm sure you'll see that more as his career goes on (with) the Blackhawks, and he'll get even more accommodated here in the United States and everything like that. He'll become a better player. Sky's the limit for that kid."
Kane assisted on Panarin's first goal Wednesday for his league-leading 60th point of the season. He has two goals and eight assists on a five-game point streak.
Kane has scored a goal in four straight meetings with the Sabres, who appear to be badly overmatched. Outscored 18-7 during its five-game skid, Buffalo (15-21-4) has given up 31 goals and scored 17 during its 0-7-1 stretch in this series.
The Sabres preceded their overall losing streak with a 4-1-1 span and totaled nine goals in the final two victories, but they've gone back to playing like one of the worst offensive teams in the league. They were dominated by Atlantic Division-leading Florida on Tuesday, falling 5-1 to complete a three-game homestand.
"I don't think our pushback was there in the third period where it needed to be," coach Dan Bylsma said. "They got the third goal, and I thought we really sagged after that."
The lone goal came from Ryan O'Reilly on the power play, and Buffalo has gone 4 for 14 in the last three games after an 0-for-21 stretch in the previous seven.
O'Reilly, with two goals in his past three contests to give him 16 on the season, was chosen Wednesday to represent the Sabres in the All-Star Game.
"He's our leader. He's our go-to guy right now," rookie center Jack Eichel told the team's official website.
Chicago's Corey Crawford, expected to return to the net Thursday, has given up two goals over his last two starts. He's won all six career starts against the Sabres with a 1.82 goals-against average.