BUFFALO, N.Y. — Back-to-back wins have been hard to come by for the Buffalo Sabres, but they’ll have a prime opportunity to buck that trend when the struggling Colorado Avalanche come to town.
The two teams will square off on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game.
Following goalie Robin Lehner’s rant on Sunday — when Lehner criticized his teammates for not following the coaches’ gameplan in a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks — the Sabres (24-23-10) responded accordingly on Tuesday in a 3-2 win over Lehner’s former team, the Ottawa Senators.
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Lehner made 39 saves in the victory and youngster Justin Bailey scored the game-winner 7:38 into the third period.
“We knew that the game was right there, we had been doing good things all night,” Bailey said, according to the team’s website. “We just stuck to our game plan.”
The key for Buffalo now will be to build off of a win. The Sabres haven’t recorded consecutive wins since Jan. 20-24 — a three-game win streak — and have traded wins and losses over their past eight games.
Instead of making a push toward the playoffs, the Sabres are five points out of a wild-card spot.
“We’re not satisfied at all,” center Ryan O’Reilly said, according to the team’s website. “It’s one game and we have to string a bunch together here. Our consistency has been terrible and we’re not happy by any means here. We have to prove to each other every night that we’re a team that can contend.”
O’Reilly has been one of Buffalo’s few consistent performers as of late, with five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five games.
Lehner has been remarkable in recent weeks and is the biggest reason the Sabres have any chance of making a late-season playoff push. He has a save percentage of .924 and a goals-against average of 2.55 this season.
This will be as good a time as any for the Sabres to change their inconsistent ways. The Avalanche (15-37-2) come to Buffalo on a four-game losing streak and are in the midst of a season-high five game road trip (with two games remaining, at Buffalo and at Carolina). Aside from two wins earlier this month, the Avalanche have lost 13 of their last 15 games and 18 of their last 21 games.
Colorado is coming off a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday.
“I thought we were a little slow,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said, according to the team’s website. “They were coming up with pucks, they were getting to the puck first most of the time, and that’s why they carried the bulk of the play.”
One positive for Colorado was the play of goaltender Jeremy Smith, who made his NHL debut after a lengthy career in the minors. Smith made 37 saves against the Devils.
“I thought he was fantastic, the best player by a country mile,” Bednar said.