Fans filed into the First Niagara Center and took their seats shortly before the players took the ice — for the morning skate.

"I've never seen that many people at a morning skate," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I'm sure Kaner had a lot to do with that."

St. Patrick's Day came a week early in Buffalo as Patrick Kane returned to his hometown with the defending Stanley Cup champions in tow.

It was the Hawks' — and Kane's — first appearance in Buffalo since October of 2010 and many in the crowd Sunday wore No. 88 sweaters and cheered when the winger was introduced and not long into the game when he scored a highlight-reel goal.

Those made for festive moments in a hockey game that didn't display any kind of pace until an entertaining third period. When the final horn sounded, the Hawks had survived a scare from the NHL's worst team with a 2-1 victory over the Sabres.

Jonathan Toews scored the decisive goal to give the Hawks their second consecutive victory and keep pace with the Blues in the Central Division. Corey Crawford made the scores by Kane and Toews hold up with 20 saves, allowing only a goal by Drew Stafford.

"It's probably one of the first things I look for when the schedule comes out is when we're playing Buffalo," Kane said. "I spend the whole summer here. It's nice for me because I have all my family and friends here that I grew up with. I definitely still feel very connected to the city."