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Quick Hits: Sabres 4, Avalanche 1

Which NHL team held the longest running hex over the Buffalo Sabres? You probably never would have guessed the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs' stranglehold of games over Buffalo finally ended Sunday afternoon in First Niagara Center, as the Sabres jumped to a 3-0 lead after the first period and held on for a 4-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,070.

Buffalo had not beaten the Avalanche since a 6-4 win in Denver on Dec. 4, 2005, and was 0-6-4 against the Avs since then -- the longest active streak for one team over another in the NHL. Things were actually tougher in Buffalo than Denver, as the loss snapped the Avs' 6-0-1 run here.

The Sabres had not beaten Colorado at home since a 4-3 overtime win on March 24, 2003 and had not beaten them here in regulation since a 2-1 win on Dec. 23, 1999.

Quick strikes: Jack Eichel got the Sabres going at 2:02, scoring for the first time in seven games on a brilliant solo rush that culminated in a wrist shot between the legs of Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov. Evander Kane made it 2-0 at 4:42 as Varlamov simply whiffed with his glove at Kane's 50-footer.

Quick hook: Varlamov got a quick hook from Avs coach Patrick Roy after letting both shots he faced get by him. Varlamov entered the game 21-14-3 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .917 save percentage but was replayed by Calvin Pickard.

Tip City: Sam Reinhart made it 3-0 at 17:14 of the first, getting his stick on Ryan O'Reilly's floater from near the blue line.

The goal race: Eichel and Reinhart join O'Reilly for the team lead with 17 goals, while Kane is now at 16 with his fourth goal in four games. Jamie McGinn (12) is the only other Sabre in double figures. Buffalo's final goal was an empty-netter by Marcus Foligno, his seventh goal of the year, with 1:50 left.

The net result: Robin Lehner improved to 3-4-1 with some strong play in goal for the Sabres, stopping 34 shots as the Avalanche outshot Buffalo, 35-21.

PK power: The Sabres got in penalty trouble late in the third period as Zemgus Girgensons took a four-minute high sticking penalty and Josh Gorges followed with a two-minute infraction. The final two minutes of the Girgensons penalty was played with the Sabres in a 5-on-3 disadvantage but Buffalo blocked shot lanes and only gave up one shot on goal, drawing a standing ovation from large segments of the crowd. Great work by Ryan O'Reilly and David Legwand keyed the Buffalo unit.

Measure of revenge: Prior to the game, coach Dan Bylsma admitted his club remained burned by the 2-1 loss it suffered the Avs Jan. 20 in Denver. The Sabres led, 1-0, with 12 minutes left before eventually falling on Francois Beauchemin's goal with 31.7 seconds left.

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," Bylsma said. "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

Familiar face: The Avs pulled within 3-1 at 2:35 of the second period as defenseman Erik Johnson netted a tap-in on a perfect feed from former Sabres No. 1 pick Mikhail Grigorenko. In 51 games this year, Grigorenko has four goals and 13 assists for Colorado.

The Itch Report: Serving as healthy scratches for the Sabres were Mike Weber and Carlo Colaiacovo. Johan Larsson missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. Mark Pysyk came back into the lineup after sitting as a scratch for a game.

Silence: Maybe Roy's quick yank of Varlamov had something to do with his Valentine's Day mood. He declined to meet the media prior to the game, a violation of NHL media access rules. Coaches regularly brief reporters two hours before a game on a day when there is no morning skate, as Bylsma did at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Up next: The Sabres practice Monday, then head for Ottawa and Tuesday night's game against the Senators. They play Friday at Columbus, then hold a nationally televised matinee here next Sunday against the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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