DENVER -- For one night at least, a lot went right for the Buffalo Sabres.
They opened the scoring Tuesday and led for the first time in five games. A defenseman scored a goal -- a first on the season -- and it stood after a lengthy replay review. Evander Kane snapped a six-game drought. The team didn't have any broken spirit after giving up a pair of power-play goals. And goaltender Robin Lehner was staunch with 35 saves.
There haven't been many games this year like Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Especially lately, with the Sabres on a four-game skid and a 1-9-2 slide that has dropped their season into the abyss.
The offense has struggled so much of late that it's almost hard to remember this team collecting goals. Then you see a game like this and realize it's the kind of effort the Blue and Gold should be capable of on a much more consistent basis.
"Our guys fought the whole night," Buffalo coach Phil Housley said of the franchise's first win in Pepsi Center in six games since 2005.
True words indeed.
The Sabres showed plenty of gumption after Nathan MacKinnon walked around Rasmus Ristolainen and scored his second power-play goal of the night to pull Colorado into a 2-2 tie with 10:02 left. Kane scored the game-winner just 1:56 later.
"We've had some good 'fightback" when we've been down throughout the season," Kane said. "Not necessarily in tie games, but we battled back here and found a way to win. We made plays when we needed to and we got the saves when we needed them."
Kane took Jack Eichel's deflected shot off the backboards and beat Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov to the spot at the right of the crease, jamming home his team-high 13th goal of the season.
"I'd had some opportunities to bury earlier in the night and didn't have my NHL-caliber finishing," cracked Kane, who had endured his longest dry spell of the season. "I had my amateur finishing early on so it's nice to get one there."
Until MacKinnon tied the game, the potential winning goal was Jake McCabe's screened shot with 1:01 left in the second period that put Buffalo in front, 2-1. Newcomer Scott Wilson screened Varlamov on the play and combined with Benoit Pouliot to properly tag up outside the Colorado zone as Johan Larsson poked the puck back in just as it left the zone.
The Avs challenged the goal looking for an offside call and most of the generously announced crowd of 13,258 thought the home team had a case.
Housley was like everyone else in the building initially: He saw the puck exit the zone just barely before Larsson could get to it and figured his team was cooked. But Housley and his assistants kept watching and started to feel better when they noticed the tag-ups, figuring they were about to get a goal -- and a power play for the delay of game penalty headed Colorado's way.
"We looked at it again and our guys tagged up," he said. "We knew it was going to be a good goal. We were getting our power play ready."
"The hockey gods were on our side I guess on that call," McCabe said. "And hopefully the floodgates open for us on the back end now too."
It seems inconceivable for a defense corps to go more than a quarter of the season without a single goal, but that's what 11 Buffalo blueliners combined to do this year until McCabe finally broke through.
"I think you guys are more worried about the goals and points than we are," McCabe said. "Because we're more worried about the two points on the line every night. Obviously, we need to provide that secondary offense on the back end and we did that."
Lehner was strong in his crease all night, especially in the final two minutes when the Avalanche's press for a tying goal was ultimately ended by Jack Eichel's empty-netter with 33 seconds left.
The Sabres had been shut out in Lehner's previous three starts, so he was more than happy to provide some strong work in the crease on a night where that effort was reciprocated by his offense.
"It's great for sure. It was a helluva stretch there," Lehner admitted about the offensive help. "Sometimes it just snowballs that way. It wasn't like we couldn't have any goals in those games. We had a bunch of posts, a bunch of open netters just bouncing off sticks. ... Sometimes it happens. Today, it let go a little bit."