NHL on NBCSN: Hawks know they can’t take Sabres lightly

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Buffalo Sabres host the Chicago Blackhawks at the First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

On paper this is an obvious mismatch. The Sabres were the league’s worst team even before they traded away Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Matt Moulson, and Brayden McNabb and they’re up against a Blackhawks squad that they haven’t beaten since Dec. 11, 2009.

At the same time, Buffalo has managed to post a 4-2-0 record since the Olympic break. That’s due in large part to goalie Jhonas Enroth, who has a 2.00 GAA and .950 save percentage in three games following the Miller trade. They’ve also leaned on defenseman Tyler Myers, who has six points in five contests.

There’s no question that the Blackhawks are still the heavy favorites to win tonight, but they can’t take Buffalo lightly either.

“We have to be respectful,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “We approached the Columbus game the right way and have to have the same type of attitude going into tomorrow’s game. When you look at the standings, what’s at stake, every game will have some meaning.”

In Chicago’s case, the Central Division title is what’s still at stake. Now that the St. Louis Blues have Miller, they’ve opened up a four-point lead on the Blackhawks despite having played in one less contest. They also have to be weary of the third place Colorado Avalanche, which are just one point shy of them.

Just as important for Chicago though is finding motivation to maintain a high level of play now that its playoff spot is all-but secured. The Blackhawks did a great job last season when it came to competing hard until the end of the regular season despite the fact that they realistically could have just coasted after getting off to a 21-0-3 start and probably still ended up with a high seed.

Instead they were able to carry that momentum all the way into the playoffs and use it to propel them to a Stanley Cup championship.

So while there’s no question that Chicago can survive no matter what happens tonight, this would still be a terrible time to start easing up against opponents they should be beating.