Notes: Short-handed swords get a massive night of Lokonen in amazing condition over the Avalanche

DENVER – If you want to rate a signing win this Buffalo Sabers season, the selection should be easy.

When you play sleight of hand with only five defensemen on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champions, you have to give the Sabers full marks for their 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night at Ball Arena.

Buffalo’s Owen Bauer—who leads NHL rookies in ice time at 23 minutes, 37 seconds per game—was a late scratch due to what a team official described as a lower-body adjustment he suffered just before warming up. Already missing Henry Jockeyharjo, Ilya Lyubushkin and Jacob Bryson, the Sabers had no choice but to play with just five players in the “D” and try to hand out the minutes.

“He was nowhere to play, unfortunately,” coach Don Granato said of Bauer. “And we had no options.”

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Rasmus Dahlin added, “He was trying everything he had. Too bad.” “He really wanted to play this game but the doctor said he couldn’t.”

Dahlen, Matthias Samuelsson, Kali Clagg, Casey Fitzgerald and Lawrence Pilot put together impressive performances in the opener of a three-game road trip to back up a standout NHL performance by Buffalo goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Samuelsson played a game- and career-high 31:31, Dahlin scored in 28:37 and Clague had in 23:34. Samuelsson and Dahlin each had four blocked shots as the Sabers accumulated 23.

“I’m a little tired,” Samuelsson said with a pained smile. “Five ‘D’ isn’t easy anywhere and especially at the heights. I thought all five guys stepped up and played well so we did it.”

“We sacrificed for each other,” Dahlin said. “I am very happy with this game and it is a great start to a road trip.”

The Sabers have lost eight in a row to the Avalanche in regulation and their most recent win in the series was a 4-2 win here on December 5, 2017. The win brought the Sabers back to . 500 percentage points at 14-14-2 and improved them to 7-3-2 since ending the series. Their eight-game losing streak last month in Montreal. Colorado is 15-11-2 and is sitting in the last playoff game in the Western Conference.

The Sabers got a goal from Tage Thompson just 54 seconds into the game and made it 2-0 on Alex Tuch’s power play goal at 7:08 of the first. Lokonen made 39 saves and had a hard-pressing performance as Colorado outscored the Sabers 41-21 – and 17-1 going into the third period.

“I think it was clear from the start that it was going to be a very difficult match,” said Lokonen. “But we did a good job of getting them away from the boxers. There are a lot of shots there, but I think we played smart.”

“‘Upie’ looked confident all the way through,” Granato said. “It was as if he wanted the pucks to come to him.”

Luukkonen stayed square to pitchers, swallowed rebounds and did an excellent job tracking pucks across Buffalo territory all night. Especially with thin defense teams, the Sabers’ forwards were also excellent at getting back into their zone and helped keep the Colorado forwards at bay.

There was a surprise entrant at the Buffalo Sabers sled Thursday morning. A day shy of a month after suffering a knee injury in a goal-mouth collision during a loss in Ottawa, guard Eric Comrie is back on the ice to give his way back into the lineup.

“Just keep the shifts short,” Samuelson said of the key to the night. “I had maybe a couple of shifts in there about 10-15 seconds apart. Just keep it simple. If you’re skating and trying to join the lunge every play, you’re going to get yourself out. So we tried to move it to the front and let them do their thing.”

Bryson and Lyubushkin were on the trip and Lyubushkin took skiing in the morning, but neither was able to play. Lyubushkin remains on injured reserve while the Sabers hope Bryson returns to the lineup on Saturday in Arizona. Jokiharju, also on the IR with a lower body injury, is not on the flight.

The Avalanche have struggled with injuries of their own and are playing this one without superstar Nathan McKinnon, who burned Buffalo to five points Dec. 1 at KeyBank Center but has been out for the past two weeks with an upper-body injury.

“You want to win every game, but we are on the way in their place,” said Lokonen. “Two games left in this wild ride. Starting like this against this team is really good.”

Here are some other notes about a wild day and night in Denver:

1. Get enough offense

Even without MacKinnon, the Avs still had many Stanley Cup veterans in their lineup and were likely looking to make a jump start in the game. It didn’t because the Sabers took the lead to preserve Thompson’s stunning solo effort to beat Colorado goaltender Alexander Georgiev. It was Thompson’s 24th goal of the season.

Thompson added an assist to improve his points total for the season to 46 points. Only three Sabers have had more points over 30 games – Pat LaFontaine in 1991-92 and 1992-93, Alexander Mogilny in 1992-93 and Gilbert Perrault in 1974-75. Thompson’s 24th goal tied Tomasz Vanek (2008–09) for third in club records for first 30 appearances, behind Mogilny (30 in 1992–93) and Fontaine (29 in 1991–92).

Tuch’s goal was his 15th of the season and Dahlin hit the 10th at 17:11 of the second period to make it 3-0. He took Tyson Ghost’s feed and burned Georgiev on the wrist for his 10th goal of the season, giving the Sabers their sixth NHL scorer in double figures.

“The last four games I’ve filmed from the exact same location,” Dahlin said. “I shot the left side as hard as I could and was so happy he got in. He was close to the post out so I was happy.”

The Avs broke up the Sabers’ second straight shutout attempt on a Mikko Rantanen goal with 11:40 to play and former Saber Evan Rodrigues made it 3-2 with 1:22 remaining. But there was no panic as Dylan Cousins ​​hit an empty net after 25 seconds.

Sabers center Tyson Jost played his first regular season game in Denver against the team that drafted him in the first round in 2016 in Buffalo. Just played an exhibition game here with Minnesota in September before the Sabers acquired him off waivers last month. The Avalanche did a video tribute during the first period stoppage for Jost, who was applauded by cheers from the crowd.

With so many Denver reporters in the dressing room, Jost’s summary of his experience in Buffalo went something like this: “It was amazing. The guys are great. The coaching staff is incredible. Just the communication and the style they play the way they want to play reminds me so much of when I walked out to Here for the first time.”

In a non-power shuffling, Capt. Kyle Okposo sat (lower body) but could join Bryson in getting back on the flight. Vinnie Hinostroza returned to Okposo’s lineup, playing with Zemgus Girgensons and Peyton Krebs.

4. Trade with a WNY twist

The Sabers announced a trade in AHL defense with a local twist two hours before the game, acquiring Youngstown native Josef Ciccone from the Dallas Stars in exchange for Rochester blueiller Oskari Laksonen.

Cecconi, 25, is a former member of Buffalo Jr. Sabers who played for Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Championships along with Sabers Thompson and Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-3 Cicconi has made 12 assists this season for the Texas Stars and played in 176 of them in the past five years.

Cecconi was Dallas’ fifth round selection in 2015 and played four years at Michigan. Laaksonen, a former AHL All-Star, fell out of favor in Rochester due to his poor defensive play and was a healthy scratch. The 2017 third-round pick had 2 points in 10 games.

They would pop out on Friday and play the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night for their first visit to Mullett Arena in Tempe, the 4,600-seat Uties home on the ASU campus. The Wolves host the New York Islanders there on Friday night.

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