BUFFALO -- The Colorado Avalanche sure are happy to have goalie Calvin Pickard around.
Pickard made 28 saves, and forward Alex Tanguay scored two goals and had an assist to help the Avalanche to a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Saturday.
A 22-year-old rookie, Pickard got his fifth win in his 11th NHL appearance and ninth start of the season.
"We probably didn’t really have any expectations and neither did he, and he's come in and played really well, like a No. 1 goalie, and has probably proved to himself and people around the League that he's a No. 1 guy and we would probably not be afloat right now if it wasn’t for him," Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said. "We've got to give him a lot of credit. You don’t see a lot of goaltenders his age make an impact in the NHL."
Pickard lost 1-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, when he made 47 saves.
"I'm feeling comfortable, more and more so," Pickard said. "It’s nice playing every game. I thought I had a good outing in Pittsburgh too, and I just wanted to build off that. When we're playing with the lead all game, you're going to be called upon a few times each period, and I just wanted to be solid for the guys."
Pickard became the go-to goalie when Semyon Varlamov sustained separate groin injuries on Nov. 18 and Dec. 8, and has outplayed Reto Berra. With Varlamov close to returning, Pickard has made a good impression.
"I think I'm ready, and I just want to take it day-by-day, and every opportunity I'm given I just want to give the team a chance to win," Pickard said. "I feel like I'm doing [that] and the defense is clicking with me."
Johnson and forward Cody McLeod gave the Avalanche (11-13-8) a 2-0 first-period lead. It was Johnson's seventh goal and McLeod's second.
"That was the best first period I think we’ve had all year," Johnson said. "As far as establishing pressure defensively and in the neutral zone, it was a really good period. Our foot got off the gas a little bit in the second, and when you’re up like we were you’ll sit back a bit in the third. ... We played a really good game, one of our best this season I think."
Tanguay extended the Avalanche lead to 3-0 with his 10th goal of the season 1:51 into the third period. He received a pass from forward Jarome Iginla on a 3-on-2 and took a wrist shot that beat Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth (18 saves) high to the glove side.
"We had jump, we had jump. You feel better," Tanguay said. "You feel a little bit looser when you get a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period, and certainly for our team we need to be skating. We need to feel confident; we need to create, now, our own luck. We need to move up in the standings. We know how far back we are, we know how difficult it's going to be, but we've got 50 games left so there's still time."
Center John Mitchell, who missed the past seven games with a lower-body injury, made it 4-0 with a power play goal at 5:09 of the third period. Mitchell was alone in the slot when he scored his fourth goal on a pass from Tanguay.
"[He’s] Mr. Versatile. He can fill any different role," Johnson said of Mitchell. "He’s a really versatile center, can play on the top three lines, power play, [penalty kill]. When you get a guy like that, that just adds really good depth to our lineup and he was really good tonight."
Sabres forward Johan Larsson scored his first NHL goal with 6:33 left in the third period to end Pickard’s shutout. Larsson converted a pass from Chris Stewart that cut the Colorado lead to 4-1. Pickard made 28 saves.
Larsson was called up from Rochester of the American Hockey League before the game and replaced forward Matt Moulson, who did not play because of an illness.
"I think I got here with two minutes left in warm-ups," Larsson said. "Of course, [it’s] nice to get the goal. Obviously, it’s tough to lose."
The Sabres (13-18-2) had a six-game home winning streak end with their second loss in a row. They have won 10 of the past 15 games.
"They're a very skilled team," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "You give them a chance, they're going to put them in. The scary part is I liked our first period, except we had made a couple crucial mistakes and they capitalized on it. ... We did the same thing (later on). More so our mental mistakes than anything."
Tanguay scored an empty-net goal with 26 seconds left.
"I had a good feeling this morning," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I thought we were skating well, I thought we seemed very confident in our morning skate, and I was hoping we could bring this to the game, and when I saw the way we started, I was very happy and I was confident we would have a good night."
Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta left the game in the second period and did not return. Defenseman Tyler Myers sustained a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return. Kaleta will be out against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
"Myers we'll take a look at right now, he'll probably be questionable for [Sunday]," Nolan said. "Kaleta wasn’t an injury. He was more sick than injury. Same thing with Matty Moulson (who was scratched). Before the game, he just didn't have enough energy to play."