Sabres use big first period to claim victory over Avalanche

Jack Eichel scored one of the Sabres’ three first-period goals to help them get a 4-1 win over the Avalanche.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jack Eichel and the Sabres’ young stable of offensive stars sparked a three-goal first period.

Goalie Robin Lehner and Buffalo’s penalty-killing unit then did the rest in securing a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.

"That’s obviously huge. You get out to a lead early," Eichel said. "It’s good to get to him early. Obviously, our team’s playing with a lot more confidence when you’re up 2-0 that soon into the game."

Eichel opened the scoring by capping an end-to-end rush 2:02 in. The Sabres scored again on their second shot on net and chased Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov 2 1/2 minutes later, when Evander Kane floated in a shot from just inside the blue line.

After Sam Reinhart deflected in Ryan O'Reilly's shot late in the first period, the Sabres leaned on Lehner to beat Colorado for the first time since Dec. 4, 2005, and snap a 0-6-4 skid.

Buffalo killed off all six Avalanche power-play chances, including a 2-minute, two-man advantage that began with 6:22 left.

"I think we played desperate there," said Lehner, who finished with 34 saves. "I think they missed the net about six times. They helped us out a little bit. But it was just nice to get through that and be able to come out with a win."

Lehner bounced back after giving up 11 goals in his previous three starts, including being pulled in a 7-4 loss to Florida on Tuesday.

Colorado closed a three-game road trip with a 2-1 record, and dropped to 2-4-1 in their past seven. The Avalanche also lost in regulation for the first time in eight trips to Buffalo. They had gone 6-0-1 at Buffalo since a 2-1 loss on Dec. 23, 1999.

The game against Buffalo was a reversal of Colorado's 3-2 shootout win at Detroit on Friday. The Avalanche beat the Red Wings despite being outshot 45-21 and lost to the Sabres in a game they outshot Buffalo 35-21.

"It's kind of funny because we didn't play very well against Detroit and we (won)," coach Patrick Roy said. "And this afternoon, we had a strong game and we came up short."

Erik Johnson scored the Avalanche's lone goal by tipping in Mikhail Grigorenko's centring pass 2:35 into the second period.

Colorado managed eight shots on net on its six power-play chances, including just one during its two-man advantage.

Sabres defenceman Zach Bogosian made a key play during that stretch by preventing Jarome Iginla from getting to a rebound to the left of the net with 4:50 to go.

"We had a chance there with the 5-on-3 at the end to really make it a game, and couldn't put one in. That one hurt us," Johnson said. "Give them credit. They put pucks to the net and scored goals and were able to get a good win."

Calvin Pickard made 17 saves in replacing Varlamov.

The Sabres' offence is finally finding its groove. Buffalo picked up goals from three of its top four scorers, with rookies Eichel and Reinhart each scoring their 17th of the season. Buffalo topped three goals for the sixth time in its past nine games after managing that six times in its previous 19.

Coming off a 6-4 win over Montreal on Friday, the Sabres won consecutive home games for the first time since a 3-0 streak from Nov. 27 to Dec. 12.

"There's a lot of positive things going on in this locker room," Eichel said. "I think as a team we can get on a little bit of a streak and start to patch together a few more wins in a row."

NOTES: Sabres F Zemgus Girgensons returned after missing three games with a lower body injury. ... Iginla had an assist in playing his 1,451st career game, tying Teemu Selanne for 22nd on the NHL list. ... With 52 points, the Sabres are 2 short of matching their total from last season, when they finished with the NHL's worst record.