DENVER – The Sabres walked into Colorado’s arena Saturday with a chance to gain ground on 29th-place Arizona. A slow start kept them exactly where they were when the day started, though they at least felt better about themselves by night’s end.
Colorado scored the first four goals in just 27 minutes and held on for a 5-3 victory.
“That whole first period, we didn’t set our clocks and change to a different time zone,” Buffalo coach Ted Nolan said. “We got going a little too late.”
The Sabres fell to 0-4-1 in their last five games. Once again, their next one is a big one.
The rematch with Arizona is set for Monday night in Gila River Arena. The Coyotes, who lost in Pittsburgh on Saturday, lead the Sabres by six points. Arizona has six games remaining, while Buffalo has seven. A regulation victory by the Coyotes would all but guarantee a 30th-place finish for the Sabres and a top-two draft pick.
“The main focus now is to work hard,” right wing Patrick Kaleta said. “Seven games left, give it everything you’ve got, honest effort, finish it off the right way.”
The Sabres certainly finished the right way Saturday. They entered the third period in a 4-0 hole but climbed within 5-3 with 11:17 remaining. They took 18 shots in the final period but couldn’t come back.
“Nobody threw in the towel after the second,” said defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who scored twice. “We picked ourselves up and we battled hard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
The Sabres outshot the Avalanche, 38-22, setting a season high while outshooting an opponent for just the seventh time in their 75 games. Buffalo’s third-period total eclipsed their entire output from 14 games this season.
“You’ve got to like the way we answered,” left wing Marcus Foligno said. “We played a lot better in the third period.”
It’s a small victory, but one they’ll take.
“We showed really good resolve in the third period,” Kaleta said. “Especially with where we’re at and some of the inexperience we have, we could have just folded it up. Kudos to some of guys here for sticking with it and getting us back in the game.”
Meszaros scored the Sabres’ first two goals, and fellow defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen closed the scoring.
Cody Hodgson led the Sabres with eight shots, but they surprisingly came from the fourth line. He took part in the morning skate as the third-line right wing with center Phil Varone and left wing Nicolas Deslauriers, but Kaleta assumed that role as Hodgson skated with Tim Schaller and Matt Ellis.
“Schaller and Ellis are a little bit more defensively oriented guys, and Cody could just kind of concentrate on offense, which he did,” Nolan said. “I thought that was one of his better offensive attacks all season long.”
On “Star Wars Night” in Pepsi Center, The Force was with the Avs as they got to Anders Lindback twice in the opening period and scored on two of three shots against Matt Hackett during the second.
Hackett, who can become an unrestricted free agent if he fails to play at least 30 minutes in 28 career games, entered at the start of the second. He went the rest of the way to give him 23 such appearances, according to the yearly game log on NHL.com.
Nolan said he made the change to spark his sluggish team.
“We had no life,” he said. “We had no jump. There was nothing going on. Sometimes by changing goaltenders it changes things a little bit.
“We found a way to at least battle back and fight. One thing about these guys, they never quit.”