CHICAGO -- Greetings from Level 7 high atop the massive United Center, with the famous Chicago Stadium-sounding organ about 20 feet to my left, as we get set for tonight's Sabres-Blackhawks battle. Not much in the way of pregame activity here today with both teams playing last night (the Hawks won in Columbus while the Sabres ... well, if you don't know how they did, what are you doing on this blog anyway?)
This is one great town and I've been here numerous times, both on personal trips and the 2005 White Sox-Astros World Series. Last time here was for Niagara vs. Kansas in 2007. For 10 minutes, I thought I might be on to something big. Thirty minutes and 107-67 later, it was time for Sully and I to get set for an early-morning flight home.
Lots of walking time today as well as a magnificent drive through Wrigleyville and down world-famous Lake Shore Drive. Spectacular views of downtown and Lake Michigan. On a beautiful sunny afternoon, even got some mist on the rental car from Buckingham Fountain. Fun stuff.
And as for lunch, what better offering than Chicago deep dish pizza? The Blackhawks became the first NHL team to litter their practice jersey with corporate logos this year but at least it's small -- and it least it's for Giordano's, which is possibly the best deep dish on the planet.
I know folks will say there's better deep dish here, sort of like we tell people there's better wings than the Anchor Bar (which there are) and there's better Italian than Chef's (I'm a big Chef's believer, however, so we'll go on that topic). But this stuff was awesome. Cheesy, saucy, crusty. It was massive. I got more for later. You at least get a picture of this sensational concoction (be sure to click on it for a bigger view!). Forget about appetizers or salads when you're attacking one of these. You just dig in and stay pizza-focused. I was desperate to keep eating.
Did someone say desperate? Focused? Gotta get some hockey cliches in there. As games on Oct. 16 go, this one is as massive for the Sabres as that pizza was for me. They're a mess right now. Offense is non-existent, key players absent, a couple injured. Get this one: Tyler Myers is minus-6 -- tied for the worst rating of any NHL player! (Patrick Kane, by the way, is minus-5 for the Hawks).
We also await whether the Sabres go for any retribution against Niklas Hjalmarsson in the wake of Monday's hit on Jason Pominville. I'm guessing not much happens. NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell, who obviously equates a blindside, concussion-causing hit with an obscene sexual gesture based on his Hjalmarsson-James Wisniewski decisions, will be playing close attention to this one. CBC reported this evening Campbell called Patrick Kaleta and told him to mind his Ps and Qs tonight after Kaleta said Tuesday the Sabres could take care of things themselves tonight.
The Sabres have to focus on hockey tonight but let's see what happens if this thing turns into a blowout either way.
10:27 p.m.: We're under way.
18:20 left: Thomas Vanek, still stuck on no goals, tries to pass on a 3-on-1 break with Stafford and Leopold. Fire away, dude.
17:35 left: Nice save by Lalime on Bolland, who broke free down the left wing.
16:00 left: Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta bottle the Hawks in their end for 45 seconds, drawing boos from the crowd. Just outworked every Chicago player for the puck at several spots in the zone.
11;53 left: Huge break for the Sabres. Butler was going for tripping Kane but during the delayed penalty, Toews foolishly cross-checked Butler in front to cancel the power play before it even began. So it's 4-on-4.
11:04 left: Lalime stands up to a strong shot from Duncan Keith after Roy is stripped in the corner by Sharp. Solid work for Lalime in his first start of the year.
10:24 left: Bolland ties it up, beating Rivet to the outside as he streaks down the left win and sliding the puck between Lalime's legs. 3-3. Rivet simply not fast enough anymore.
9:56 left: Sabres have to hold on as the crowd is back in it. Lalime stops Kane from in front. Shots are 33-21.
9:07 left: Leopold goes for high sticking Brouwer. Trouble now.
7:08 left: Sharp on a tap-in with one second left on the PP after a great behind-the-back between the legs feed from Kopecky. Hawks lead, 4-3.
3:51 left: Kopecky drills Roy into the end boards and he's slow getting up. Kopecky goes for boarding. Let's see: Hawks have drilled Pominville and Roy in two games. Too bad this one is so late. You would think that warrants response.
3:09 left: Here's the chance now. Nick Boynton for hooking. Sabres up two men for 1:18.
2:47 left: Disaster there. Leopold's shot is blocked and he trips Toews trying to recover the puck back to Connolly.
32.8 left: Lalime out. Shots 41-21. And Keith goes for slashing, giving Buffalo one more power play.
It's over: A tough 4-3 loss.
9:36 p.m.: We're under way.
18:56 left: Cue Chelsea Dagger on the first shot of the period. Hossa beats Lalime on a breakaway after a ridiculous 100-foot pass from Seabrook splits Leopold and Myers. Nice shot off the post. 2-2. Myers a minus-2 and a minus-8 for the season.
15:00 left: Both 19s are stoned by the goaltenders as Turco stops a Connolly backhand and Lalime is sharp on Toews' chance from in front.
13:32 left: The Sabres will be shorthanded as Grier drove the glass out behind Turco. That wasn't the call however. Butler and Niedermayer get roughing calls and Stalberg goes for the Hawks after a mini scrum.
12:40 left: Sekera with a big hit on Toews, who's taken a couple tonight. Not much action toward Hjalmarsson, who took one hit from Stafford and a glancing one from Kaleta.
11:28 left: Just as the power play ends, Buffalo gets one as Hossa goes for tripping Grier. Attendance announced at 21,293. And unlike HSBC, there's no empty seats in that count either.
9:10 left: One of the best PPs of the season for Sabres but no goal. Turco stopped Roy, Myers, Gerbe (on Myers' rebound) and Gerbe again. Good work at the point by Myers and Butler. Shots are 24-13 for Sabres.
2:45 left: The Sabres are winning virtually every battle and are finally rewarded as Cody McCormick is first stopped on a deflection of a Hecht pass but that jams home his own rebound under Turco, who started the problem with a giveaway behind his net a few seconds earlier. McCormick's first as a Sabre. Sabres lead, 3-2. Shots are 29-14.
End 2nd: Sabres lead, 3-2. Shots were 10-7 and that makes it 29-16 through 40 minutes. Solid performance thus far.
19:09 left: Sabres get a quick power play on an interference call against Tomas Kopecky.
17:01 left: Decent power play but no goals. Marty Turco solid with big saves off Sekera and Roy. Shots are 4-0 for Sabres.
15:13 left: Icing against Hawks puts puck back in Chicago zone, where it's been most of the time. Big hit a few seconds ago by Kaleta against Jonathan Toews.
13:57 left: Connolly, who actually seems to be doing productive things out there for once, fakes Viktor Stalberg right to the ice as the crowd groans. Turco makes the save, his sixth of the period. Lalime has yet to face a shot. So far the Sabres have skated like this: Hecht-Connolly-McCormick, Vanek-Roy-Stafford, Ennis-Niedermayer-Grier, Gerbe-Gaustad-Kaleta. With Myers-Leopold, Montador-Butler and Sekera-Rivet.
13:35 left: The Tyler Myers horror show continues. Lose the puck making a routine move from the backhand at the Hawks line, sending Kane and Sharp off on a 2-on-1. Perfect pass by the South Buffalo kid for a one-timer to Sharp to make it 1-0. So 6 1/2 good minutes down the drain. 1-0 Hawks.
13:08 left: Great answer by the Sabres, who deserved a goal thus far. Stafford gets it, backhanding home a Montador rebound. 1-1.
12:51 left: And they deserved a second one as Gaustad's pass to Gerbe in front goes in off Nick Leddy's skate to make it 2-1. Shots are 9-1. The Myers giveaway could have been a huge downer. Quite a reaction. Two goals in 17 seconds and three goals in 44 seconds. Sabres lead, 2-1.
10:50 left: The Hawks tie it up as Montador gets locked up with Lalime in the crease after going in with Kopecky. Or do they? Kopecky called for incidental contact. That's a terrible call. Should have been a goal.
10:00 left: Rivet off after taking a stick to the face under the left eye. He stays on the bench. The action is pretty crazy in this one so far.
4:53 left: Stafford goes for high sticking as he nailed Kopecky in the face with the stick going behind him as he was trying to streak away. Tough break.
2:50 left: Lalime strong on the PK with a big glove save on Dave Bolland and another stop on Toews. Shots are 13-8.
1:57 left: Dowell for hooking puts Sabres back on power play. Wondered if Ennis was going to get a penalty shot when the whistle went. It was close. McCormick had banged the puck home just before the whistle and the goal was waved off because the Hawks quickly swept the puck out right to McCormick.
1:08 left: Strong work by Vanek down low. Just missed one chance and fed Myers for a good shot.
End-1st: Sabres lead, 2-1, and had a 19-9 edge in shots. Can't argue with that period at all. Of course, folks in HSBC Arena have to wonder where this has been the last four home games. And Sabres played a good first Monday against the Hawks too. We'll see.
Warmup update: It is Patrick Lalime leading the Sabres on the ice, meaning he'll make the start. And Patrick Kane is out for the Hawks. The United Center might have the loudest warmup music in the league. Holy moly. Even louder than the Air Canada Centre, which just plays downright annoying heavy metal lyric-less drivel.
Starting lineup announced for Sabres: Lalime in goal, Montador and Butler on defense. Here's the line: Hecht-Connolly-McCormick. Lindy the Line Juggler no doubt at it tonight. Weber again the lone healthy scratch. Morrisonn/Pominville injured.