The Wraparound: Avalanche 5, Sabres 4

The Wraparound: Avalanche 5, Sabres 4
Bruins fall flat in 4-2 loss to lowly Sabres
nBUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Tyson Jost and the speedy Colorado Avalanche caught the Buffalo Sabres flatfooted through most of the first 50 minutes on Sunday night.

By the time the Sabres could recover, the Avalanche built what proved to be an insurmountable lead in hanging on for a 5-4 victory.

“We didn’t stick to our game plan,” center Evan Rodrigues said in KeyBank Center. “We didn’t keep things simple, and that led to them getting too many good chances, too many good looks at our net. Even though we scored four goals, when you play like that you’re going give up what we gave up, and you’re not going to win many games.”

Bruins fall flat in 4-2 loss to lowly Sabres

“We’re a young, fast team. That’s part of our identity this year,” center Tyson Jost said. “I like what we did that today, so that’s something we have to use to our advantage because we do have young legs.”

From the opening minute through a frantic late-game push, the Sabres had miscue after miscue. They blew coverages, turned pucks over and looked nothing like the team that methodically picked off Boston on Saturday despite losing Eichel to an ankle injury that will keep him out for a month or longer.

The Avalanche ran circles around the Sabres — and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen in particular — by building a 3-1 lead through the 1:07 mark of the second period on Colin Wilson’s goal.

Then, Jost and Gabriel Bourque sealed the win by converting rebounds less than four minutes apart to build the Avalanche lead to 5-2 with 12:57 remaining in a game Colorado never trailed.

Bruins fall flat in 4-2 loss to lowly Sabres
Bruins fall flat in 4-2 loss to lowly Sabres

Wilson had a goal and assist, Matt Nieto scored on a short-handed breakaway and Alexander Kerfoot opened the scoring in the first minute.

Sabres’ Eichel out 4 to 6 weeks with sprained right ankle

Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots and the Avalanche won for the third time in nine games (3-5-1) to keep pace in a tightly contested race for the Western Conference’s final two wild card spots. The Avalanche now have 64 points, just two behind Minnesota for the last playoff position.

Ryan O’Reilly had a goal and two assists in Buffalo’s first game without leading scorer Jack Eichel, who will miss between four and six weeks with a sprained right ankle. Eichel was hurt in a 4-2 win at Boston on Saturday.

Eichel’s absence wasn’t the issue for the Sabres. They were instead undone by a meltdown from their top defenseman, Ristolainen, who was on the ice for all five Colorado goals.

Sabres Notebook: Mistakes galore; Nelson scores first goal; O'Reilly shines
Sabres Notebook: Mistakes galore; Nelson scores first goal; O’Reilly shines

The trouble began when Kerfoot scored 43 seconds in by tapping in Wilson’s pass on a two-man breakaway after both sneaked in behind Ristolainen and Nathan Beaulieu. Nieto’s short-handed goal that put Colorado up 2-1 came after Ristolainen muffed on keeping the puck in at the Avalanche blue line.

O’Reilly scored a power-play goal and contributed two shorthanded assists in Sunday’s loss to Colorado.

Then Wilson’s 100th career goal was set up by captain Gabriel Landeskog, who forced Ristolainen to give up the puck in his own zone.

Housley said Eichel will miss four to six weeks, putting the player in a position to return in the final weeks of the season even though Buffalo might not have much to play for at that point. The Sabres are last in the Eastern Conference standings and sit 19 points out of the playoff contention with 27 games left.

“It’s just a bad game and it should not happen,” said Ristolainen, who was benched for much of the remainder of the second period.

Coach Phil Housley didn’t mince words when asked about the defenseman’s struggles.

Eichel leads Buffalo with 22 goals and 53 points in 55 games in his third season since being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. Eichel became the franchise’s highest-paid player after signing an eight-year, $80 million contract extension in October. The contract kicks in next season.

“I think you saw the game,” Housley said. “I think there’s some passengers tonight that weren’t prepared to play the game.”

Evander Kane capped Buffalo’s scoring with 2:52 remaining. Casey Nelson and Benoit Pouliot scored short-handed goals and Robin Lehner stopped 22 shots for Buffalo.

Colorado defenseman Nikita Zadorov caught his former team napping in setting up Kerfoot’s goal. Waiting behind his own net, Zadorov sent a long pass up the right wing that hit Colin Wilson alone at the Sabres blue line. Wilson drove to the net and fed a pass across to Kerfoot, who tapped it in the open side ahead of defensemen Ristolainen and Nathan Beaulieu.

The Avalanche made up for the absence of their leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, who missed his sixth game with an upper body injury.

And Wilson’s goal that put Colorado up 3-1 came off a Ristolainen giveaway 1:07 into the second. After knocking down a pass in his own end, Ristolainen coughed up the puck while being pressured by Gabriel Landeskog and Kerfoot. Landeskog got the puck and fed Wilson in the left circle, who snapped a shot past Lehner.
Avalanche holds on to defeat Buffalo Sabres
Avalanche holds on to defeat Buffalo Sabres

The five goals against Buffalo matched Colorado’s combined output in going 1-3 in its previous four outings.

Jack Eichel ruled out indefinitely

“At times, it was a little bit of a strange game,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of an outing in which the teams combined for three short-handed and two power-play goals. “It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a big win for our team, no question.”

Watch: Housley says Eichel could return this season

Bednar said MacKinnon has been skating at home and has a chance to return soon.

This has been the best stretch of Eichel’s career, with 29 points over the last 23 games. Since Dec. 15, only Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin (35) points and Islanders rookie phenom Mathew Barzal (30) have more. Eichel was on his way to his first 30-goal output, probably his first point-a-game campaign.

NOTES: The three short-handed combined goals scored wasn’t even a season-high for a Sabres game. Buffalo and the New York Islanders combined for two each in a Sabres’ 6-3 loss on Oct. 17. … Colorado played its 1,500th road game in team history and 2,999th overall, including the franchise’s tenure as the Quebec Nordiques. The Avs improved their all-time road record to 599-714-64 and 123 ties. … Sabres top defensive prospect Brendan Guhle returned to action with AHL Rochester after missing nearly a month with a lower body injury.

Avalanche: Return home where they’ve won nine straight (one shy of matching franchise record) to host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

The Bruins have not endured many bad losses over the last three months. In fact, they’ve not suffered many losses at all.

Extra attacker: Sabres left wing Evander Kane gave the fans who stuck around another reason to cheer. Bernier stopped Marco Scandella’s point shot, and Kane kicked the rebound to the side of the net. Before Kane had a chance to corral the puck, it hit the stick of Avs defenseman Samuel Girard and went in with 2:52 to play.

The loss was just the B’s second regulation defeat in 24 games and it snapped Rask’s personal point streak of 21 games (19-0-2), which dated back to Nov. 26 and was a personal best.

Preview: Going Back to Back

After taking a 3-1 lead in the second period, the Sabres played well defensively and the B’s couldn’t do a lot to change that. David Backes scored with 59 seconds left and Rask pulled but that was as close as they got. Rasmus Ristolainen scored an empty-netter from 190 feet away with 28 seconds left to seal it.

The B’s have done a good job of not playing down to competition since their surge began back in November but they played a little too cute according to coach Bruce Cassidy. Meanwhile, the Sabres were doing a good job of preventing shots in front of goalie Chad Johnson. He made 25 saves while his teammates blocked 20.

“It was a little uncharacteristic. Things have gone well for us so maybe our guys thought, ‘Well, we’ll tic-tac-toe around tonight,’ ” said Cassidy. “We needed a little more meat and potatoes.”

It was just one of those very rare nights lately when the B’s could not jump-start themselves. And whenever the B’s did seem to have something promising going, they shot themselves in the foot. The B’s recorded 18 giveaways as Torey Krug led the way with five.

“We were backfiring on everything we were shoving into the engine tonight,” said Backes.

The Patrice Bergeron line managed just two shots on net — one apiece for Bergeron and David Pastrnak and none for Brad Marchand — and the unit had a rare minus-2 night.

Bergeron said the B’s — who had three full power plays while the Sabres enjoyed just 13 seconds of man-advantage time — didn’t “respect the game plan” enough.

“They were right on top of us and doing a good job of denying time and space. We got stubborn at the line especially and they took it to us with odd-man rushes,” said Bergeron. “We should have played a simple game and gone in there and established some good forecheck and O-zone time and we didn’t do that.”

The Sabres took control of the game in the second period, with their first goal coming off a turnover.

Pastrnak tried to center the puck, but he flubbed the pass and it went right to Sam Reinhart. Evander Kane immediately vacated the zone and got past Zdeno Chara to receive Reinhart’s pass for the clean breakaway, beating Rask glove side at 7:42.

Jack Eichel injury update: Sabres star out with bad ankle

That goal emboldened the Sabres and they continued to press the issue, taking a 2-0 lead at 12:44. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu snapped a shot toward the net that hit Adam McQuaid in front. It produced a room service bounce for Scott Wilson, who flipped it from the slot past a helpless Rask for the two-goal bulge.

The B’s got one back at 14:39 on one of the cleaner breakouts of the night and a sparkling finish. Krug cut in front of the B’s net and carried it for a short distance before dishing it up to Jake DeBrusk. DeBrusk took it up the wing before making a great backhand dish to the middle, where Ryan Spooner redirected it home.

But the B’s fell behind by two again before the period was out with 1:11 left. The puck got past McQuaid at the right point and the Sabres took off on a 3-on-1. Once inside the B’s zone, Wilson made a cross-ice pass to Benoit Pouliot and the former Bruin beat Rask, who could not go post-to-post in time. It held up as the game-winner. Rask kept the B’s in the game in the third with several high-caliber saves, but they couldn’t do anything until Backes’ desperation goal.

Sabres end Tuukka Rask’s point streak, despite losing Jack Eichel

“It was probably a combination of them playing a pretty solid game positionally and their sticks were pretty on top of our attack,” said Backes. “We didn’t simplify to counter that, or use their aggression and positioning against them where you just get it up to the red line, get it over and behind their defensemen, make them come 200 feet and make them make mistakes in their own zone. We just never got that sort of game going, which has been effective for us. But we’re going to treat this like the last 25 games, learn from it and put it behind us. We’ve got two more points to go after (tonight in New Jersey).”

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