NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, February 1st (All times Eastern)
Buffalo Sabres (15-30-8) at Colorado Avalanche (34-14-5), 3 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Colorado Avalanche will aim for a third straight victory when they welcome the lowly Buffalo Sabres for Saturday's afternoon battle at the Pepsi Center.
Colorado has played terrific hockey of late, going 11-3-1 over the last 15 games, but the club is still running third in the Central Division and the Avs are four points behind the second-place Blues.
One of the biggest reasons for Colorado's surprisingly successful season has been the play of No. 1 goaltender Semyon Varlamov. The 25-year-old Russian is 27-9-5 this season with a 2.47 goals against average and .924 save percentage and he was rewarded with a five-year, $29.5 million contract extension on Thursday, hours before he helped Colorado hold on for a 5-4 home win over Minnesota.
Varlamov's extension kicks in at the start of next season and makes him property of the Avs through the 2008-19 campaign.
Rookie Nathan MacKinnon's breakaway goal with 2:25 remaining in the third period wound up being the game-winner for the Avalanche against the Wild.
Colorado had entered the third with a 4-1 lead, but the Wild got two goals before MacKinnon beat Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom on the glove side to make it 5-3. Minnesota's Jason Pominville scored 11 seconds after MacKinnon, but the Wild couldn't complete the comeback.
Ryan O'Reilly, Paul Stastny, John Mitchell and Maxime Talbot also scored for the Avalanche.
"It was a tight game and we need to figure out these third periods where we have the lead and you know, we kind of relinquish that," said Mitchell
Varlamov made 31 saves to end the month with a 10-1-1 record and set a club record for the most wins by a goalie in January. His 10 victories in January also matched a franchise mark for any month, joining Craig Anderson (October 2009), Peter Budaj (March 2007) and Dan Bouchard (February 1981) in the club annals.
Colorado improved to 18-7-3 as the host with Thursday's win and this afternoon's test marks the club's final home tilt before the Olympic break. The Avs will start a four-game road trip Monday in New Jersey and will complete the swing next Saturday against the New York Islanders.
The Sabres are last in the NHL with 38 points through 53 games and Buffalo has a poor 6-15-3 record as the road team in 2013-14. However, the Sabres have posted wins in two of their last three away tilts and they managed to record a 3-2 regulation win Thursday at Phoenix.
Zemgus Girgensons netted the game-winner while his club was shorthanded early in the third period, as Buffalo slipped past the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena. Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott also supplied offense for the Sabres. Ryan Miller collected his second win in three starts thanks to 38 saves, and improved to 6-0-0 all-time against the Coyotes.
"We wanted to come in and play extremely hard," Ott said. "I thought we did that tonight."
The win did come at a cost for the Sabres, however, as forward Matt Moulson suffered an upper-body injury in the third period and did not return. Moulson, who has nine goals and 15 assists in 40 games since joining the Sabres in late October as part of the Thomas Vanek trade, is expected to miss the team's final four games before the Olympic break.
Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is also questionable for Saturday after missing Thursday's game with an illness.
Colorado has won six straight meetings against the Sabres, who last beat the Avs in a 6-4 decision in Denver on Dec. 4, 2005. Buffalo has lost two straight at Pepsi Center since that victory.
02/01 10:43:38 ET