ST. PAUL, Minn. -- That transition from outdoor hockey to the good ol' indoors didn't go so well for the Buffalo Sabres here Thursday night.
Winger Nino Niederreiter returned from injury and poured in a hat trick over the first 24 minutes as the Minnesota Wild cruised to a 6-2 rout of Buffalo before 19,017 in XCel Energy Center.
Niederreiter opened the scoring at 1:09 of the first period, tallied again on a power play at 13:53 of the first and completed his second career hat trick at 4:02 of the second period. And both of his hat tricks are against Buffalo, with the other coming in 2014.
Niederreiter, who entered the game with 10 goals, had missed the last five games with an upper-body injury. His parents were in the house from Switzerland; Niederreiter played on the Swiss team at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.
Ugly margin: Playing its first game after the Winter Classic overtime loss to the Rangers Monday in New York, Buffalo nearly endured its worst loss of the season. The Sabres had previously lost five times by four goals and were down, 6-0, in this one until getting third-period tallies from Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane. The Wild was coming off their biggest win of the season, a 5-1 victory here Tuesday over Florida, and this one equaled that.
First-period blues: The 3-0 Minnesota advantage compiled after the first period continued the Sabres' woes this season in the opening 20 minutes. Through 40 games, Buffalo has been outscored, 36-15, in first periods. The 15 goals are the fewest by any NHL team in any period -- by 10 goals.
Paging Player Safety: The Sabres played with just five defensemen over the final 50 1/2 minutes after Rasmus Ristolainen was banished for interference and a game misconduct at 10:16 of the first period. Ristolainen crossed the middle of the ice and hit Minnesota's Mikko Koivu up high, causing a gash above the mouth that that may have happened with contact from Ristolainen's face shield.
Ristolainen got a three-game suspension for interference in March for a hit on Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel and the game misconduct will almost certainly generate a review from the NHL's Department of Player Safety. Niederreiter's power-play tally came on the Ristolainen major. Ristolainen ended up playing just 5 minutes, 43 seconds in the game. He averaged a team-high 26:47 entering the game.
Helpless night in goal: Sabres netminder Robin Lehner gave up six goals on 17 shots and was lifted in favor of Chad Johnson to start the third period. Lehner yielded three goals on eight shots in the first period and three goals on nine shots in the second. But he got little help defensively as several of the goals were in tight or unchallenged shots in the slot.
Easy math: The Sabres fell to 10-21-9 on the season. That's 10 wins in 40 games. The Sabres are 5-10-3 at home and 5-11-6 on the road. Minnesota improved to 22-16-3.
Breaking the ice: The Sabres broke Devan Dubnyk's shutout on Reinhart's tally at 1:54 of the third period. It was his seventh of the season and second in two games. He broke a 16-game string with no goals in Monday's Winter Classic; his last goal was Nov. 22 in Buffalo against the Wild. Kane's goal with 1:01 left was his team-high 16th.
On the scoresheet: Koivu and Mikael Granlund both had three points for the Wild, with Koivu collecting his sixth goal of the season and Granlund compiling three assists.
Alumni report: Minnesota's Tyler Ennis had one assist in the game. Marcus Foligno had no points and was banished for the night on a 10-minute misconduct with 6:26 to play along with Buffalo's Jordan Nolan after some mutual chirping developed along the boards.
Lineup switch: Justin Falk returned to the defense corps and Josh Gorges was a healthy scratch after playing Monday in New York. Victor Antipin (flu) continues to be away from the team and is not on the trip. Scott Wilson is the healthy scratch at forward.
Welcome wagon: Vikings quarterback Case Keenum got a huge hand during the first period when he appeared on the video board and was presented with a Wild jersey. The Vikings are hosting their first playoff game on Jan. 14 and are trying to become the first host team to appear in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Super Bowl LII is at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
Up Next: The Sabres hit the air after the game for Winnipeg, where they will play the Jets Friday night at 8 in Bell MTS Place. The road trip concludes Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.