DENVER (AP) Erik Johnson was overcome by emotion in his return to Colorado. The Buffalo Sabres were overcome by the speed of the Avalanche.

Valeri Nichushkin scored twice, Nathan MacKinnon reached 800 career points with two assists and the Avalanche rode a fast start to a 5-1 win over the Sabres on Wednesday night.

The quickness of the Avalanche spoiled Johnson's homecoming. Then again, the veteran defenseman knew just how blazing fast MacKinnon & co. were after trying to slow them down for years and years in practice.

It was a memorable night at the rink for Johnson, who was honored in the first period with a video tribute. He remains a fan favorite after playing parts of 13 seasons for the Avalanche and helping them to the 2022 Stanley Cup title.

“I just tried to soak it all in. Just felt numb all game," Johnson said. "I wish the outcome was different for our team. ... That top line, when they get going, no one can stop them.”

Nichushkin, Mikko Rantanen and Miles Wood paved the way with first-period goals, while defenseman Sam Malinski scored his first NHL goal in the third period. He also had an assist.

“It’s a moment you dream of your entire life, since you’re a little kid,” said Malinski, whose dad was in the crowd. “A special moment.”

Ivan Prosvetov was stellar in his start over a scuffling Alexandar Georgiev and made 29 saves. The Avalanche wrapped up a five-game homestand with a 3-2 mark.

Zach Benson scored for the Sabres and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen finished with 24 saves.

“I really wish we would've worked a little bit harder for No. 6,” Sabres forward Alex Tuch said of Johnson. "We have to start better.”

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 nearly had as many shots (five) in the period as Buffalo had as a team (six).

“Val’s start to the game was insane,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “He probably could have had four goals in the first eight minutes of the game.”

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. Johnson tapped his heart in appreciation and raised his stick to a cheering crowd during the video.

The 35-year-old Johnson played in 717 games with Colorado before signing with Buffalo as a free agent over the summer. He was planning to stay in town Wednesday night and catch up with his former teammates.

“I love this organization, team, fans,” Johnson said. “Everybody was so good to me over my years here.”


Sabres: At Vegas on Friday night in the second game of a three-game trip.

Avalanche: Travel to Winnipeg on Saturday.



Copyright 2024 STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.