In their previous meeting with the Colorado Avalanche this season, Robin Lehner and the Buffalo Sabres endured a heartbreaking loss, surrendering a goal with just over thirty seconds left to play.
There was no heartbreak for the Sabres on this Valentine’s Day as they ousted the Avalanche in a 4-1 victory, marking the first time since mid-December that they’ve won consecutive home games inside First Niagara Center.
“These two wins are definitely huge for us,” said Ryan O’Reilly following the game. “We’ve struggled as of late [at home]; we need to generate some momentum, and I think that’s what we did. We made it tough to play against and we found ways to win hockey games. And going forward on the road, it’s never easier, and every game is different. We have to find a way to win, but definitely momentum from these will push us forward and we have to build on it.”
It was not just Buffalo’s second home win in a row, but also the second game in a row that they chased an opposing netminder. This time, it was as if they were in a hurry to do so. Jack Eichel and Evander Kane put Buffalo ahead 2-0 before the first five minutes of the game had been played, sending Semyon Varlamov to the bench in favor of Calvin Pickard. Eichel’s goal was a beauty that saw the rookie take the puck from one end of the rink to the other before hurling a wrister that gave him his 17th goal this season. Kane’s 16th on the year was less flashy, but still remarkable in that it was a shot that nearly came from the blue line, and still managed to sail over Varlamov.
Buffalo tacked on a third goal late in the opening period. With just under three minutes left to play before the first intermission, O’Reilly fired his own shot from afar that Sam Reinhart managed to tip past Pickard to also net his 17th tally on the year. O’Reilly earned a second assist later in the game on Marcus Foligno’s empty-net goal that closed out the contest, lifting O’Reilly to nine assists in his last seven games.
“I’ve been pretty lucky, a few of those have been empty net assists, but it’s easy to do when you look at the guys I’m playing with all the time,” said O’Reilly. “The way they put the puck in net, as a center, it makes my job easy. I just try to find these guys wherever I can. They’re playing great, and they’re finishing. I’d like to say I’m doing a lot more, but I give credit to those guys for getting to the hard areas and finishing.”
The Sabres came up big on more than one occasion on the defensive side of the puck, as well. Late in the third period, they were faced with an extended 5-on-3 penalty kill after Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons skated to the penalty box. Buffalo ended up allowing just one shot on goal during that lengthy stretch down two men and escaped unscathed.
“I think we played desperate there,” said Rehner about the late penalty kill. “We fought well. I also think [Colorado] missed the net about six times, so they helped us out a little bit. It was just nice to get through that and be able to come out with a win.”
It was perhaps Lehner’s strongest performance while donning blue and gold, who bounced back in a huge way after giving up nine goals in his last two starts. He foiled 34 of Colorado’s 35 shots, only being beaten by a smooth backhand from Erik Johnson after the Avalanche weaved through the Buffalo defense—a showing that earned him first star of the night.
Buffalo will spend most of their time on the road for the next couple of weeks as they play five of six games away from First Niagara Center. They’ll be in action next on Tuesday evening when they visit the Ottawa Senators for the two teams’ third meeting on the season.