Nichushkin scores twice, Avalanche beat Sabres in Johnson's return
DENVER (AP) — Valeri Nichushkin scored twice, Nathan MacKinnon reached 800 career points with two assists and the Colorado Avalanche rode a fast start to a 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Zach Benson scored for the Sabres on an emotional night for teammate Erik Johnson. He was honored in the first period with a video tribute after playing parts of 13 seasons for the Avalanche and helping them to the 2022 Stanley Cup title.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen finished with 24 saves.
MacKinnon's big assist night allowed him to become the fifth player in franchise history to reach the 800-point mark. MacKinnon also extended his point streak to 13 games and has at least a point in all 15 home games this season.
Rantanen started the early scoring spree and now has goals in back-to-back games. He took offense to recent comments from the dad of one of his teammates concerning his offseason work ethic. Ismo Lehkonen, a hockey analyst and the father of injured Avalanche forward Artturi Lehkonen, told Finnish public broadcaster YLE on Monday that Rantanen’s recent slump may be because “he didn’t have a terribly swell summer.” Rantanen used the comments as fuel.
Colorado controlled the first period, taking a 3-0 lead with three tallies in a 6:30 span. Nichushkin, who scored his 11th goal of the season, nearly had as many shots (five) in the period as Buffalo had as a team (six).
The Sabres grabbed some momentum when Benson scored with 1:22 left in the opening period. It was Benson's first goal since Nov. 30.
Johnson was touched by fans holding up signs to welcome him back to Ball Arena in pregame warmups. A video was shown in the first period of his highlights with Colorado. Johnson tapped his heart in appreciation and raised his stick to a cheering crowd.
The 35-year-old Johnson played in 717 games with Colorado before signing with Buffalo as a free agent over the summer.
“It was a great run,” said Johnson, who became emotional talking about his time in Colorado after morning skate. “I’m super grateful.”
Sabres: At Vegas on Friday night in the second game of a three-game trip.
Avalanche: Travel to Winnipeg on Saturday.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl