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Niederreiter's first hat trick powers Wild past Sabres

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn . -- Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter needed an empty net Thursday to complete his first NHL hat trick. But it wasn't for a lack of effort.

Niederreiter had at least three golden opportunities for the hat trick before finally scoring his third goal with 2:28 remaining, capping a 6-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Xcel Energy Center that snapped Minnesota's four-game losing streak.

With the Wild leading 4-2 late in the first period, Niederreiter nearly completed the hat trick early with a wicked wrister from the high slot, but Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth moved over just in time to make the save.

In the third period, Niederreiter had a shot at an open net blocked by traffic. Another shot hit the post before, finally, Charlie Coyle fed him on a 2-on-1 break and Enroth off for an extra skater. Niederreiter hit the empty net and has a team-leading seven goals.

"I felt like if I kept shooting the puck, eventually it would go in," Niederreiter said. "I was lucky they pulled the goalie and obviously to [Coyle] for getting me the puck."

Minnesota led by two goals after a crazy first period that saw an early Buffalo goal and three goals in 17 seconds.

The Sabres took a 1-0 lead 1:06 into the game when a point shot by Rasmus Ristolainen got through traffic and trickled across the goal line. It snapped a 13-game streak in which the Sabres failed to score a first-period goal.

The Wild scored goals seven seconds apart five minutes later, taking a 2-1 lead on Ryan Carter's second of the season and Niederreiter's first of the night. Before public address announcer Adam Abrams could finish the third word of Carter's goal announcement, the puck was in the net again after Coyle passed to Niederreiter, who worked some quick stick magic to get the puck on his forehand and stuff it inside the right post.

"We've got two defensemen trying to stand up guys at the blue line, you give them a breakaway from a center-ice draw," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Those are the kinds of things that kill us all the time, and it killed us again tonight."

It took Buffalo all of 10 seconds to tie the game again on a snap shot by Zemgus Girgensons. His fourth of the season ended the night for Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who didn't stop either of the two shots he faced.

"I just felt that's what we needed," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of replacing Kuemper with Niklas Backstrom. "Those aren't easy decisions, but what good teams do and what close teams do is they bail out their teammates and help out their teammates, and I felt that not only did [Backstrom] do that but the whole team did that."

Backstrom finished with 25 saves. Kyle Brodziak and Niederreiter scored later in the first to give the Wild the lead for good.

Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon scored the only goal of the second period, a power-play goal, in his return to the lineup after missing five games with a shoulder injury. Playing without top-four defensemen Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella, each of whom missed the game due to illness, Spurgeon played 29:27, three seconds fewer than minutes-eater Ryan Suter. Spurgeon also finished with eight shots on goal, tying a franchise record for shots by a defenseman.

"It was a little rusty, but to get out there was good," Spurgeon said. "I just tried to get back into it as fast as possible. Playing with [Suter], it's pretty easy to do that. I was just trying to keep it simple."

"You don't quite have the luxury of easing him back in," Yeo said. "I thought he played a great game."

Minnesota (8-7-0) is 6-1-0 at home. The Sabres fell to 3-13-2 and are 0-4-1 in their past five games. This was the third in a row in which Buffalo has allowed six goals.

Torrey Mitchell scored a third-period goal for the Sabres, who reached three goals in regulation for the second time this season.

"On the plus side, the first time we've scored three goals in a long time," Nolan said. "But we need more than spurts, we need great goaltending every night. We need three or four lines going every night. We need six defensemen going every night. A game like tonight, we had maybe one line and two defensemen going."

Minnesota scored a total of three goals during its four-game losing streak. The six goals were the second-most the Wild have scored in a game this season.

"The victory was definitely huge for us, a four-game skid where we definitely didn't play our best hockey," Niederreiter said. "Tonight, we played a couple of pretty solid periods."

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