With a few of its veteran leaders out with injury, the Colorado Avalanche was looking for skaters to help guide its young squad, both on the ice and in the dressing room.
Left wing Gabriel Bourque showed his experience and scored the game-winning goal for Colorado as it defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 at KeyBank Center on Sunday.
"That was a must win for us," said Bourque. "It was a team effort tonight. Everybody played well, and it felt great."
The Rimouski, Quebec, native buried a rebound off an Anton Lindholm shot to extend Colorado's lead to 5-2, and the marker eventually became his first game-winner of the season and fifth of his career.
The contest marked the second game in a row that Bourque has served as an alternate captain for the Avalanche.
"[He is respected by] not just our staff, but our players. I think they respect what he does," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar. "The way he plays, the way he leads. Sacrifices every day for our team. He is getting in shot lanes, he eats a lot of hard minutes and does a lot of the things that don't get a lot of credit in the media. That's why he is out there at the end. That is his job to defend leads like that and kill penalties. For him, to be chipping in offensively is what we need right now, especially when we are shorthanded."
Nathan MacKinnon typically wears the 'A' but after he suffered an upper-body injury on Jan. 30, Blake Comeau took over his leadership duties as alternate captain. However, Comeau left the club's contest at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday with a lower-body injury and the team then looked to Bourque.
Video: COL@BUF: Bourque puts in rebound with backhand
"I didn't change anything [about my game], I just played the same way," said Bourque. "I go hard to the net and finally it payed off. The A, I am pretty happy about it, a lot of guys deserve it."
The Avalanche had five different goal scorers in the outing, a contest that featured more short-handed goals than it did power-play tallies.
"At times, it was a little bit of a strange game," said Bednar. "I thought our 5-on-5 game was pretty good, but there was a lot of special teams. We gave up two short-handed goals, scored a short-handed goal, gave up a 5-on-3 and a 6-on-5, too. So it was a little bit of a different game, but I liked our overall effort. I thought we did a couple of good things offensively. We got to some rebounds in front of the net and punched some pucks home. So, it wasn't pretty, but it is a big win for our team, there's no question."
Colorado got on the board just 43 seconds into the game when Nikita Zadorov sent a puck up ice to Colin Wilson and Alexander Kerfoot for a 2-on-0 rush. Wilson fed the puck to Kerfoot, who finished the play with a tap in for his 13th tally of the season.
Early in the second period, Wilson had a scoring chance of his own and fired a wrist shot to the back of Buffalo's net for the 100th goal of his NHL career.
Video: COL@BUF: Wilson beats Lehner with quick wrister
"He eats a lot of hard minutes. He has tough assignments every night, he plays the right way," Bednar said of Wilson. "I like the heaviness he plays with. We have needed some guys to step up and chip in, especially with some of the offensive guys that we have out. For him to come out and Bourque and guys like that and come out and contribute for us, especially on a night when our power play wasn't going.
"We needed some goals out of our power play and it felt like it could have been a different game early, but those guys stepped up in different situations and got us the lead. It's what we need. It's how you are going to win. You need different guys to do the job on a nightly basis."
Colorado found multiple ways to score in the victory and was able to capitalize on one of its five power-play opportunities when rookie forward Tyson Jost found the puck in front of Buffalo's crease and sent a laser past goalie Robin Lehner.
"Something we wanted to stress today was our execution. Just kind of create havoc and get pucks to the net," said Jost. "A lucky bounce is what we were due for. It was nice, the puck came right to me and I happened to find the back of the net. That was huge for us. We needed a power-play goal to kind of kick things off, and its good for our confidence too."
NIETO NETS HIS 10TH
Matt Nieto scored his 10th goal of the season in the first period, an unassisted short-handed tally. He became the eight skater for the Avs to reach double-digit goals this season.
"We got a clear, and their D kind of mishandled it," said Nieto ofhis breakaway tally. "I was lucky enough that it kind of bounced out in the middle. As I came down, I was kind of thinking of what to do and he is a big goalie so I knew I wasn't going to beat him low. So, if I could get it over that glove it would be my best shot."
The Long Beach, California, native now has 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 47 games this campaign.
Video: COL@BUF: Nieto goes top shelf on breakaway for SHG
The win in Buffalo capped a three-game trip for the Avs in the middle of a road-heavy schedule in February. Colorado is in the middle of a stretch that has it playing 13-of-16 away from the Mile High City.
The Avs return home on Wednesday for a Valentine's Day matchup versus the Montreal Canadiens.
"Obviously, we didn't like our first two games and we expected a lot more for ourselves," said Tyson Jost. "It's huge that we got this last win here, and now we are going back to the Pepsi Center where we have had a lot of success. We just got to keep this rolling. I think that's one thing about a young team, you got to learn how to win on the road and this is a right step in the right direction."
Wednesday's contest will be the 1,500th home game and 3,000th game overall in franchise history. Sunday's outing in Buffalo marked the 1,500th road game in Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history.