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EARLY LEAD ENOUGH FOR LEHNER, SABRES AGAINST COLORADO

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

With Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons both in the penalty box and the Colorado Avalanche threatening to make a late third-period comeback, Robin Lehner didn't have to be the hero for the first time all afternoon. His penalty killers took care of him.

In two minutes of 5-on-3 play, the Buffalo Sabres' penalty kill unit allowed one shot on goal. The best save of the kill actually came from Zach Bogosian, who snatched a rebound away from Jarome Iginla and cleared the puck to help preserve a 4-1 win on Sunday at First Niagara Center.

"The PK has been very good at least since I've come back [from injury]," Lehner said afterward. "We played desperate there, we fought well and I think they missed the net about six times so they helped us out a little bit. It was just nice, nice to get through that and come out with a win."

The penalty kill finished the night 6-for-6.

"Our guys were exceptional at killing that off," Bylsma said. "Blocking shots, great sticks from [David] Legwand and [Ryan] O'Reilly and a big blocked shot by [Rasmus Ristolainen] … there was a lot of good, timely stuff from our penalty killers to seal the victory."

Just as he was in Buffalo's first meeting with Colorado in January, Lehner was excellent for the entirety of Sunday's contest. In that first game, however, Buffalo scored just one goal and ended up allowing Colorado to score the game-winner in the final minute.

On Sunday, there was no such window of opportunity for the Avalanche. The Sabres turned in their second three-goal first period of the season with goals from Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart while Marcus Foligno sealed the victory by scoring into an empty net with 1:50 remaining.

Lehner took the lead and ran with it, coming up with big saves right from the get-go whether he was coming across the net to stop a Nathan MacKinnon one-timer or stoning Gabriel Landeskog with the right pad. He was beat only once, on an Erik Johnson attempt from right in front of the net.

"He had too," Bylsma said. "It was very similar to last game, they start to come out in droves and rush the offensive zone and Robin was big, strong in net and solid. He was directing traffic in there and on the bench and it just gives you the confidence that he's not going to give one up."

The win is the Sabres' second in a row and snaps a three-game personal winless streak for Lehner, who allowed against Florida on Tuesday and five in Philadelphia on Thursday. Even in those losses, he said, he's felt comfortable since returning from a high ankle sprain in January.

"I felt good and, you know, I've felt good for quite some time," he said. "I worked hard to prepare for this game."

The victory marks Buffalo's first against Colorado since Dec. 4, 2005, a 6-4 win in Colorado. Their last home win against the Avalanche was a 3-2 overtime win on March 24, 2003.


QUICK HOOK
Semyon Varlamov, Lehner's opposition in net to begin the game, didn't fare quite as well as the Sabres' goaltender. Eichel opened the scoring 2:02 into the period, skating from end-to-end and beating Varlamov with a wrister to the far side from the left circle, then Kane went top shelf for a goal 2:40 later.

After allowing goals on the only two shots he faced, Varlamov was pulled.

"It's obviously huge, you get out to a lead early," Eichel said. "You've broken the barrier of the goalie; we only had one on him last time we played him. It's good to get to him early and obviously our team's playing with a lot more confidence when you're up 2-0 that early in the game.

Calvin Pickard, his replacement, didn’t leave the period unscathed either. After Eichel scored his 17th goal of the season to gain sole possession of the team's rookie lead, Reinhart pulled even with him by tipping a shot from O'Reilly into the net for his 17th with 2:46 remaining.

"I saw him going to the net and it's kind of funny, we practice that a lot, that kind of tip," O'Reilly said. "I just kind of tried to put it in an area and it was a great tip by him."

With Eichel and Reinhart now both just one goal behind Chicago' Artemi Panarin and Detroit's Dylan Larkin for the rookie goal-scoring lead, Reinhart laughed off the idea of any competition existing between the two. The promise it shows, however, is undeniable.

"It's very significant," Bylsma said. "There was a lot of hype and a lot of focus on Jack coming in this year and on what he was going to bring and what he was going to do but I think Sam has stepped up in a big way. To see that from two young players, two teenagers [who] for the most part are guys almost leading the way in the regard, that's a great sign for our team."


WHO'S HOT
With his goal in the first period, Kane now has seven points (6+1) in his last six home games, including two goals in the win over Montreal at home on Friday. Foligno also scored twice against the Canadiens, and he now has five points (4+1) in seven career games against Colorado.

O'Reilly, meanwhile, tallied two assists on Sunday and now has nine helpers in his last seven games.


UP NEXT
Three weeks removed from their 3-2 win in Ottawa, the Sabres will return to Canadian Tire Centre for a rematch with the Senators on Tuesday night. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.

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