BUFFALO, N.Y. — The boos from the fans had ended and the arena was nearly empty when Patrick Kane appeared at an entrance leading back to the ice, where he was greeted warmly by a group of about 75 family members and friends.
With a wave of one hand and his hockey stick in the other, Kane finally drew a cheer. He then headed into the stands to hug his mother, Donna, who was wearing a white Blackhawks No. 88 jersey with "Kane" printed on the back.
Kane was back home in Buffalo for the first time since a three-month investigation into a rape allegation in August failed to produce enough evidence for charges to be filed against him. He was booed at the start and at the finish, when he tied the game with 34 seconds left and then scored the only shootout goal that gave Chicago a 3-2 win over the Sabres on Saturday.
"Definitely a special ending," Kane said.
From the first time he carried the puck, he was jeered. The boos grew louder when he converted Artemi Panarin's pass through the crease to tie the game while Chicago enjoyed a 6-on-3 advantage — two Sabres in the penalty box and goalie Corey Crawford pulled for an extra attacker.
And when Kane's shootout chance came around, the booing reached a crescendo. Kane sped toward goalie Chad Johnson, came to a near full stop in the slot, faked a forehand shot and then flipped a backhander into the right side. Crawford sealed the win by stopping Zemgus Girgensons on the Sabres third and final shootout attempt.
"I didn't really have any expectations," he said. "Some of the guys were laughing on the bench saying I was getting booed. And some guys said I was getting cheered. You try to block that stuff out."
Kane's clutch performance — and the reception — was nothing new to Crawford.
"He gets that in some buildings," Crawford said. "You don't want to see it for a guy who is from here and has done so much for the game of hockey, especially U.S. hockey. But whatever. Fans can do whatever to try to get him off his game. But it was good to see him score the tying goal."
Dennis Rasmussen also scored for Chicago, which improved to 6-2 in its past eight.
Ryan O'Reilly and Cody Franson scored for Buffalo, which is 0-7-1 in its past eight games against Chicago.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma questioned the two penalties with 2:33 remaining, when defenseman Josh Gorges was called for holding and Rasmus Ristolainen called for high sticking.
"We got right to the bitter end and they scored to tie it," Bylsma said. "Not going to lie, it hurts."
Kane's goal was his 20th of the season and gave him points in two straight after he had a franchise-record 26-game point streak end in a 3-0 loss to Colorado on Tuesday.
Kane has been the focus of attention on and off the ice for much of the past 41/2 months.
It began in early August when a woman in her 20s alleged she was raped by Kane at the player's offseason home in suburban Buffalo. The three-month investigation took several unusual twists before Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita elected to not file charges against Kane because of a lack of credible evidence in a case "rife with reasonable doubt."
"What he was going through, it's very remarkable," coach Joel Quenneville said before the game, referring to Kane's focus. "I commend him on how he's handled the whole situation coming into the season. "His mind was in the right place, focused, game in, game out."
Scott Stedman, wearing a Kane jersey, was surprised to hear booing.
"I was expecting more cheers," said Stedman, who is from nearby Rochester. "He's a hometown hero, USA star."
NOTES: Blackhawks C Phillip Danault made his season debut a day after being called up from AHL Rockford. He replaces Marcus Kruger, who is expected to miss four months after dislocating his left wrist in a 4-0 win over Edmonton on Thursday. ... After playing their ninth game in 16 days, the Sabres enter an extended break. They're off until traveling to play Boston on Saturday. ... Sabres C Tyler Ennis returned after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. Cal O'Reilly was demoted to AHL Rochester. ... The Sabres haven't defeated the Blackhawks since a 2-1 win at Buffalo on Dec. 11, 2009.