The Colorado Avalanche are in town for a 12:30 matinee with the Sabres today in First Niagara Center and there's some revenge at work for the Sabres against an opponent they barely see and have no rivalry against.
When the teams met Jan. 20 in Denver's Pepsi Center, the Sabres were nursing a 1-0 lead into the final 11 minutes. Then Alex Tanguay scored to tie the game and set up Francois Beauchemin for the game-winner with 31.7 seconds left to hand Buffalo a 2-1 defeat in a game that saw Robin Lehner make 33 saves.
A win that night would have meant three victories in a row and five out of six for the Sabres. Instead, it started the Sabres on a three-game losing streak and a 2-5-2 rut over their next nine games.
"It sticks with our group. It sticks with our guys," coach Dan Bylsma said today during his pregame briefing with reporters. "I know we've talked about it. I know it sticks with Robin. That was an outstanding game for Robin, he played really well and it slips away with two third-period goals and the last one with 30 seconds left.
"You don't have the rivalry per se with the team you only see twice a year. And sometimes it feels like every other year with how much you play them. But that game was one that left a mark. It's also a game that left a mark with Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn."
(It was the first game back in Denver for O'Reilly and McGinn after Buffalo's draft day trade with the Avs last June).
The defeat extended Buffalo's run of trouble against Colorado, the team the have the longest victory drought against in the NHL
---Buffalo hasn't beaten the Avalanche since a 6-4 win in Denver on Dec. 4, 2005, and are 0-6-4 against them since then.
---The Avs are 6-0-1 in their last seven games in Buffalo dating to 2003, and have not lost in regulation here since Dec. 23, 1999.
Lehner will be back in the Buffalo net today. The Sabres will also have Zemgus Girgensons back in the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury and Mark Pysyk back after one game as a healthy scratch.
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy declined to meet the media this morning which, for the record, is a violation of NHL rules on days where a team does not have a morning skate.
On another note, Bylsma said he has reached out to close friend and former Minnesota coach Mike Yeo, who was fired Saturday night. As I wrote last month in St. Paul, Yeo was Bylsma's top assistant on Pittsburgh's 2009 Stanley Cup champions but was let go after Saturday's 4-2 loss to Boston. It was Minnesota's eighth straight defeat and 13th in the last 14 games.
"Just disappointing. It's a good coach and it's disappointing to see him get let go," Bylsma said. "I know his team is in a bit of a backward movement in the standings. When we saw them, they were eight points in a comfortable spot in the playoffs. Their last 20 games have been in the opposite direction. It's times like that, that's when you get the news. Sometimes you expect it when you're in the kind of slide they're in and unfortunately for Mike, he got let go."