DENVER (AP) — Nathan MacKinnon bounced up from a big check to score a nifty goal. That helped the Colorado Avalanche bounce back from the blow of losing their captain.
MacKinnon had a goal and two assists, Philipp Grubauer stopped 18 shots for his second shutout of the season and the playoff-chasing Avalanche beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 on Saturday.
Mikko Rantanen scored on the power play and Gabriel Bourque added a full-length, empty-net goal as the Avalanche played without captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s sidelined four-to-six weeks due to an upper-body injury. Colorado sits two points behind Minnesota for the final wild-card spot with 13 games remaining.
“It’s good that everyone stepped up,” MacKinnon said. “We have to have this same effort to try and fill that void.”
MacKinnon made it 1-0 early in the second period when he was knocked down by a check in the back by Jack Eichel near center ice. MacKinnon quickly scrambled to his skates with the puck, glided past defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at the blue line and lined a shot over the glove of Carter Hutton. It was MacKinnon’s 35th goal of the season.
“A great shot,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “We’ve seen it before and hopefully we see it a lot more.”
The Sabres dropped their fourth straight on coach Phil Housley’s 55th birthday. Hutton turned back 40 shots in a game that was filled with plenty of minor skirmishes once the whistle sounded.
“We are counting on our goaltender too much,” Housley said. “He bailed us out too much.”
Rantanen’s 30th goal of the season gave Colorado a 2-0 lead midway through the third and Bourque added his first goal of the season to wrap up the win. Grubauer made 11 of his saves in the third period as Colorado outshot the Sabres by a 43-18 margin.
“If we keep playing the way we played today it’s going to be really hard for teams,” Grubauer said. “A lot of great stuff today.”
Eichel was frequently at the center of the action, drawing a penalty for an illegal check to the head on Carl Soderberg in the second period.
That after Eichel was on the receiving end of a big check in the opening period. Eichel was skating along the boards when hard-hitting Colorado defenseman Nikita Zadorov hit Eichel in the shoulder area and knocked off Eichel’s helmet. Buffalo players raced to the defense of their young center. Several players were sent to the penalty box for roughing, including Zadorov, who was drafted by Buffalo in 2013 before being dealt to Colorado two years later.
“He hits me after they (expletive), excuse my language, they blow the whistle,” Eichel said. “Whatever. … They were more desperate than we were.”
Near the end of a scoreless first period, Sam Reinhart had a breakaway after he flew out of the penalty box following his elapsed penalty. He was stopped by the left pad of a sprawling Grubauer.
“The key save for me,” Bednar said. “That’s something we have to have this time of the year. You need better than average goaltending and we got it today.”
The Avalanche were missing a big chunk of their offense in the absence of Landeskog, who was hurt Thursday at Dallas when he collided with Stars goaltender Ben Bishop. Landeskog has 33 goals this season.
“Start to finish, that might have been our best game all year,” defenseman Erik Johnson said.
NOTES: Sabres D Jake McCabe (upper body) missed a third straight game. … Colorado D Tyson Barrie recorded his 40th assist of the season. … Colorado beat Buffalo 6-1 on Oct. 11. …The only other Avalanche team to feature three 30-goal scorers was the 1995-96 club, which had four: Joe Sakic (51), Claude Lemieux (39), Valeri Kamensky (38) and Peter Forsberg (30).
Sabres: Host Dallas on Tuesday night.
Avalanche: Host Carolina on Monday night.
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