A few minutes into the Buffalo Sabres’ matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, two themes quickly became apparent.
First, the Sabres’ need for points in order to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race was evident in their effort. The second was luck.
The effort and puck luck ended up making all of the difference in the outcome, as the Sabres shut out the Avs 2-0 on Thursday. It was a win the team had to have, especially on home ice, as Buffalo was facing the league’s worst squad, but goals were hard to come by.
“We had a good run of possessions with offensive zone time, but a post here, a bounce there didn’t go our way,” Bylsma said. “Even after the first period, we’re talking about staying with the game plan.
“I liked how our guys stuck with the game the whole way through. I thought we did a good job playing defense and limiting the opportunities they did have.”
Buffalo’s ability to create scoring chances and not allow the Avs much in terms of opportunities of their own was the deciding factor in the contest.
“I thought we did a good job of playing a full 60 minutes against a team that obviously has struggled this season,” Evander Kane said. “We didn’t take our foot off the gas and we kept pushing. We played sound defensively and didn’t give them too much.”
After an opening period in which Buffalo outshot Colorado 12-7 – and had multiple scoring chances with no goals to show for their efforts – the Sabres got on the board just 48 seconds into the second with a powerplay goal by Sam Reinhart. Reinhart collected his 13th tally of the year after knocking home a loose puck in front of Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard.
“For us to stick with it and not get too frustrated and down on each other, I thought we had a lot of good opportunities and good looks and we were able to stick with it and bury that one in front,” Reinhart said.
For better or for worse, the third period mostly resembled the first. Lots of opportunities – but no goals – dominated the action, until Kane roofed a wrist shot past Pickard with five minutes remaining in the period, sealing the win for Buffalo.
Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner held his ground to pick up the shutout, recording 23 saves in the process – the fewest by a Sabres goaltender in a shutout since Ryan Miller notched 22 saves against the Florida Panthers in October of 2011.
Two perennial Western Conference powerhouses – the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks – will come to town over the course of the weekend and the Sabres know that both games will provide a huge test for their team. They also know that their win against Colorado was their first set of back-to-back victories in a month, and that they need to string more victories together.
“We need to go back to back to back to back to back to back,” Kane said. “That’s where we’re at in terms of this point in the season. You’ve got two tough teams coming to our building to cap it off before the break and we have to have both of those games.”