Playoff-bound Blackhawks visit lowly Sabres

( - Having locked up a playoff spot, the Chicago Blackhawks next try to move up the Central Division standings on Friday evening when they visit the lowly Buffalo Sabres.

The Blackhawks locked up their seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs with last night's 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Chicago has won a pair of Stanley Cup championships over this current streak, lifting the Cup in 2010 and 2013.

Jonathan Toews and Marcus Kruger each scored during the third period last night, while Teuvo Teravainen scored in the first frame and Corey Crawford ended with 34 saves to help Chicago lock up a third straight win.

The Blackhawks are 10-3-1 over their past 14 games.

"We value these two points. They are meaningful," Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we still have some work to do."

The third-place Blackhawks are by no means out of the running for a Central Division title with five games to play. They trail the first-place Nashville Predators by just three points with a game in hand and also are only one point behind the St. Louis Blues, who have five games left to play as well and visit the Dallas Stars tonight.

Despite the close race, Crawford could still get the night off in favor of backup Scott Darling. The rookie has never faced the Sabres and is 8-3-0 on the season with a 1.77 goals against average and .941 save percentage in 12 games (11 starts) this season.

For the Sabres, they have a chance to post their longest winning streak since a four-game run from Dec. 9-15.

Buffalo has won two games in a row for the first time since Feb. 24-26, besting the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Monday before a 4-3 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Matt Ellis and Zac Dalpe both potted their first goals of the season, with Ellis' serving as the game-winner early in the third period.

"To get a goal, and to get a victory, doesn't get much better than that," Ellis said. "It's a special feeling."

Matt Moulson and Cody Hodgson also scored, Brian Gionta posted two assists and Anders Lindback made 24 saves for Buffalo, which improved to 3-9-3 over its last 15 games. The Sabres' 52 points match last season's total but remain last in the NHL, two fewer than the Coyotes with five games left to play.

Buffalo saw the return of leading scorer Tyler Ennis to the lineup on Wednesday after he sat out two in a row due to injury, but defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen did not play due to illness.

Lindback may get the call tonight as the Sabres try to beat the Blackhawks for the first time since Dec. 11, 2009. He is 1-2-0 in three prior meetings with Chicago, posting a 4.01 GAA and .872 save percentage.

The Sabres have lost six in a row versus the Blackhawks, including a 6-2 setback in Chicago on Oct. 11. Chicago scored four times in the third period of that game to pull away.