The special-teams units for the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche combined for five goals Sunday night.
Colorado did more at even strength, and that was the difference.
Buffalo's modest two-game winning streak came to an end with a 5-4 loss in KeyBank Center. The Avs entered the third period with a slim 3-2 edge, but they scored twice in the opening seven minutes to build a three-goal cushion.
Buffalo rallied with two goals in the closing eight minutes but couldn't complete the comeback.
It was a night to remember for Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson and a night to forget for Buffalo blue-liner Rasmus Ristolainen. Nelson scored his first NHL goal during the second period. Ristolainen was on the ice for all five goals by the Avs and was benched for parts of the second and third periods.
Slow start: The Sabres' defense pairing of Ristolainen and Nathan Beaulieu wasn't ready for the opening minute. As Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov held the puck behind his own net, the Sabres' blue-liners ignored Colorado forward Colin Wilson, who was standing behind them. Wilson accepted a pass at the Buffalo blue line and headed to the net.
Meanwhile, Colorado's Alexander Kerfoot blew past Ristolainen and Beaulieu to create a two-on-zero. Kerfoot buried Wilson's pass with only 43 seconds off the clock.
Shortie Part I: The Sabres tied it, 1-1, with 7:57 gone with the first short-handed goal of the night. Benoit Pouliot broke up a pass in the Avs' zone, then buried the rebound after goaltender Jonathan Bernier made a pad save on O'Reilly.
Pouliot scored for the second straight night after having just one goal in his previous 20 games.
Shortie Part II: Ristolainen's second rough moment came midway through the first. With Buffalo on the power play, the defenseman was unable to stop the puck at the blue line. The Avs' Matt Nieto took advantage with a breakaway, and he fired over Lehner's glove to make it 2-1 with 9:19 gone.
Faceoff mistake: The Sabres took two penalties in a span of 1:50 late in the first. As the teams lined up in Buffalo's zone for a short five-on-three for the Avs, center Tyson Jost jumped twice. Officials nailed him for a faceoff-violation penalty, short-circuiting Colorado's extended power-play chance.
The Avs exited the first period with a 2-1 lead and 13-7 shot advantage.
Another Ristolainen miscue: The Avs made it 3-1 with just 1:07 gone in the second period. Once again, they took advantage of Ristolainen. Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog and Kerfoot combined to push Ristolainen off the puck. Landeskog fed Wilson in the slot for a goal.
Ristolainen was partially benched for the remainder of the period. He skated with the power-play and short-handed units but didn't get five-on-five time.
Shortie Part III: Nelson's magic moment came with 6:45 left in the second and pulled the Sabres within 3-2. The rookie defenseman burst out of his own end and skated down the right side of the Avs' zone. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier stopped Nelson's first shot, but the defenseman controlled the rebound and skated behind the Avs' net.
Nelson banked his next shot into the net off Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson. Nelson became the second player in Sabres history to score his first goal short-handed, according to Elias Sports Bureau, joining Kevin O'Shea (March 14, 1971).
Power Play Part I: After both teams opened the third period with chances, Colorado converted to start putting the Sabres away. This time, the power-play unit did the job.
A point shot by Tyson Barrie bounced off two players and landed in the wheelhouse of Jost. He scored from the slot with 16:55 remaining to make it 4-2.
Good night: The aisles filled with fans heading toward the exit with 12:57 remaining. Lehner couldn't catch a shot by Anton Lindholm, and Gabriel Bourque sped to the top of the crease to give the Avs a 5-2 lead.
Power Play Part II: O'Reilly, who earlier in the game recorded his 400th career point, scored with the man-advantage with 7:46 remaining. The Sabres earned a five-on-three, and they needed only eight seconds. Buffalo won the draw, and O'Reilly scored from the right circle to make it 5-3.
Extra attacker: Sabres left wing Evander Kane gave the fans who stuck around another reason to cheer. Bernier stopped Marco Scandella's point shot, and Kane kicked the rebound to the side of the net. Before Kane had a chance to corral the puck, it hit the stick of Avs defenseman Samuel Girard and went in with 2:52 to play.
The goal that made it 5-4 came with Lehner on the bench for an extra skater.
Counting the house: The Sabres announced 17,646 tickets sold, but no-shows were once again prevalent.
Next: The Sabres welcome the NHL's best team to town. Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning will visit the arena Tuesday.