The Colorado Avalanche put together one of its better defensive performances of the season, if not its best all-around game, on Saturday afternoon against the Buffalo Sabres.
Colorado outshot Buffalo 43-18 and goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped every puck he faced in the Avs' 3-0 victory at Pepsi Center to begin a four-game homestand.
"Start to finish, that might have been our best game all year," said Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, who contributed four shots and three hits in the win. "I think after two (periods) they had seven or eight shots, so pretty good game from us. A game we needed to have, and we did."
Johnson helped lead a stout defensive effort by the team that saw only seven shots reach Grubauer in the first 40 minutes of play, including just three in the second period.
The Avalanche's three shots against in the middle frame were tied for the fewest allowed in a period this season, with the club also having equally strong performances on Nov. 16 against the Washington Capitals (third period) and Jan. 4 versus the New York Rangers (first period).
Video: Erik Johnson talks about the win against Buffalo
Overall, Colorado's 18 shots against were tied for the second fewest it has faced this year and the team finished with a 76-38 edge in total shot attempts. The Avs faced 16 shots on Jan. 9 at the Calgary Flames and 18 on Dec. 31 versus the Los Angeles Kings.
"I liked our commitment right from the get-go," head coach Jared Bednar said afterward. "The recognition to reload above pucks right away in the offensive zone, that allows you to keep you D gaps real tight. We're getting in and out of our zone the whole game because a lot of neutral-zone regroups--tops of the circles in their zone instead of having to chase the puck all the way below (our) goal line and break them out under pressure.
"That early work in the offensive zone by our forwards is what sets that up, and I thought we were outstanding with it tonight."
The Sabres' best offensive push came in the final 2:30 of the game, as seven of their 11 shots in the third period were fired in that time. That sequence might have been the toughest part of the night for Grubauer, but the netminder's biggest save came late in the first period.
Buffalo's Sam Reinhardt had a breakaway chance out of the penalty box after serving a hooking infraction, but Grubauer stopped the shot with his left pad.
"Other than the breakaway, I don't think they had anything. They had more shots in the last two minutes at 6-on-5 than they had all game," Grubauer said. "That is how it should be, and it was great today. A lot of blocked shots. Neutral zone, we shut them down, and it was a perfect game."
Video: BUF@COL: Grubauer denies Reinhart on a breakaway
The contest could have been drastically different if Reinhardt scored as the game was still tied 0-0 at the time.
"Big save like that keeps us right where we want to be in the game," Bednar said of Grubauer's stop. "That is what you need. You need those key saves. You got to make all the saves you're supposed to make and then a couple that are game savers for you."
Grubauer's 18 saves in the outing are tied for his fewest in a shutout win in his NHL career, with him also accomplishing the feat with the Washington Capitals on Oct. 18, 2016 against the Avalanche. That was Grubauer's first career NHL shutout.
The German netminder now has two shutouts in his last three starts after he also blanked the Nashville Predators on Feb. 23. That was a 38-save effort, which happened to be tied for the second-most shots he has faced in a whitewash victory.
Video: Grubauer after the shutout win against Buffalo
THE 30 TRIO: Mikko Rantanen's tally with 9:47 left in the third period not only gave the Avs some much needed breathing room to make it a 2-0 game, but it also marks the first time the team has had three, 30-goal scorers in a season since the club's inaugural campaign in Colorado.
It is the first time that Rantanen has reached 30 goals in a season after registering a career-high 29 last year. Teammates Nathan MacKinnon (35) and Gabriel Landeskog (33) have also surpassed the threshold this season as well.
Video: BUF@COL: Rantanen pots 30th goal on power play
"For me, all three of those guys, what they've been able to do for us this year is pretty good. Great teammates, great linemates," Bednar said. "I love to see them get rewarded and get in that special company with this organization. They deserve it. They've earned it. I think those guys are impact players for us every night."
The last time Colorado had three players with at least 30 goals was in 1995-96 when four did it: Joe Sakic (51), Claude Lemieux (39), Valeri Kamensky (38) and Peter Forsberg (30).
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the only other NHL team this season to have three skaters with at least 30 tallies in Brayden Point (37), Steven Stamkos (34) and Nikita Kucherov (31).
MACK SHARP VS. SABRES: Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and two assists and extended his multi-point streak against the Sabres to four games (five goals, four assists).
MacKinnon, who scored twice in the first meeting of the season on Oct. 11, now has 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 10 career matchups versus the club from Western New York.
The center's goal that opened the game's scoring at 3:14 came on a highlight-worthy effort.
After intercepting the puck in the neutral zone and being pushed down to his knees, MacKinnon had the composure to keep possession of the puck as he regained his footing before blowing past Buffalo rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and scoring on a wrist shot from the right circle.
Video: BUF@COL: MacKinnon pots wicked wrist shot
"Great shot," said head coach Jared Bednar of the scoring sequence. "He gets up and he's driving his legs right away. He just gets another, whatever 10-12 feet closer to the net and snaps it over his glove. I don't think [the Sabres goalie] was quite ready for it. That's what [MacKinnon] can do. We've seen it before, and hopefully we see it a lot more here at the end of the season."
For MacKinnon, it was his 25th multi-point game of 2018-19 and 100th of his six-year career. The outing also marked his 10th of the season where he's recorded three or more points.
MacKinnon's 35th goal of the campaign also ended up as the game-winner, his sixth of the season. He is now tied with Peter Forsberg for third place in Avalanche history (since 1995-96) with 35 game-winning tallies.
ZADOROV BACK IN ACTION: Defenseman Nikita Zadorov returned to game action after missing Thursday's contest at the Dallas Stars with an upper-body injury.
Zadorov, who began his NHL career in Buffalo, was paired on the backend and finished with two shots on goal and eight shot attempts in 19:31 of ice time. He also delivered a massive hit on Buffalo's Jack Eichel in the first period to help the Avalanche grab some momentum
Rear guard Ryan Graves, who played Thursday in Zadorov's absence, was Colorado's lone healthy scratch.
Video: Jared Bednar on the win against Buffalo
MORE POSTGAME NOTES: Tyson Barrie joined Erik Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon as members of the team to wear the alternate captain 'A' on their jersey. Johnson and MacKinnon are full-time assistants, but with team captain Gabriel Landeskog out for the next four-to-six weeks with an upper-body injury, Colorado is allowed to have a third player have a captain's letter on their sweater.
Mikko Rantanen's goal was his 15th of the season on the power play, and he's now tied for fifth in the league in man-advantage tallies (David Pastrnak, Boston) and tied for fourth with 32 points on the power play this year (Brayden Point, Tampa Bay and Nathan MacKinnon).
The Avs wrapped up their 2018-19 series against Buffalo, finishing 2-0 and outscoring the Sabres by a combined score of 9-1. Colorado has won three straight contests against the Sabres and 14 of its last 17 in the series.
The Avalanche finished 1-for-3 on the power play and has scored a goal with the man advantage in eight of its last 10 games, going 9-for-34 (26.5 percent) over that span. Colorado has scored a power-play goal in four of its last five outings at Pepsi Center (4-for-17, 23.5 percent).
The Avs won 62 percent of their faceoffs (39-24), matching their best faceoff win percentage of the season (also: Dec. 11 vs. Edmonton, 38- 23).
Colorado has won a season-best three consecutive games at home and is 5-0-1 over its last six outings at Pepsi Center.
The Avalanche is 5-4-2 overall in afternoon contests this season and 2-2-0 on home ice.