Both the Blackhawks and Sabres are teams that could and maybe should have packed it in already this season, before the 15 or so games they still have remaining. But despite their shared poor records and overall franchise dysfunction, these two squads with a combined goal differential of -104 on the year were contractually obligated to meet in Chicago on Monday night. It was there that the Sabres got maybe their funniest win of the season.
It started so smoothly for the home team. Calvin de Haan broke the ice with a goal eight minutes in. Sam Lafferty and Jonathan Toews added to the lead before the first intermission, and Seth Jones got one early in the second to make it 4-0. But the ice began to tilt, as Buffalo fired off four in a row to knot things by the early third. Alex DeBrincat pulled the Hawks ahead with nine minutes remaining, but then Buffalo’s Alex Tuch tied it again with a couple minutes to go.
You can watch the highlights if you want, but all that scoring is merely prelude to one of the dumbest, goofiest, most frustrating goals you’ll ever see. You might as well take a look for yourself before I spoil it for you.
Here’s what happened: The Sabres had a power play and were passing it around the offensive zone, looking for a clean shot on goal with just a few seconds remaining. They didn’t quite nail the “clean” part of that objective, but it worked out for them anyway. Tage Thompson, the Sabres’ leading goalscorer, took a one-timer set-up from Rasmus Dahlin but blew up his stick as he fired. No worries, though. The lower half of the stick and the puck both went sailing down to the end boards. The stick stayed behind the net, but the puck redirected towards Blackhawks goalie Kevin Lankinen just outside the crease. As Lankinen tried to move back into position, the puck deflected off his skate and into the net. Lankinen reacted the only way one so unfortunate could, using his post to trade a stick for a stick.
“I was already halfway to the bench,” Thompson said after the game. “I heard our bench going nuts so I turned around and saw them chasing me down. I had no clue.”
“He had no idea that he scored until we were all together and he’s like, ‘So who scored?'” Tuch added. “And we’re like, ‘You.'”
The mood in the losing locker room was decidedly less in awe of the little wonders that the game of hockey can reveal.
“Very surprised. Disappointed,” said coach Derek King. “And they should be disappointed. So we’ll find out come next game how disappointed they really are about losing a game like that.”
Aside from smaller individual storylines, like the 24-year-old Thompson continuing to put up a breakout year and Lankinen failing to capitalize on his opportunities after the departure of Marc-Andre Fleury, I’m not sure how much any of this matters. Both these teams were going to end the season feeling bad about themselves regardless of how things shook out on Monday. But it does, at least, still give Buffalo a jolt of something to celebrate while it moves (very slowly) in the right direction, while it brings Chicago just a little bit lower than they already were. This was a franchise that pump-faked a rebuild and is now about to miss the playoffs anyway for the fourth time in the last five years. And now the damn Buffalo Sabres just beat them with half a stick.