ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Mired in a scoring slump, the Minnesota Wild broke out in a big way against a team that's seen it happen all too often lately.
Nino Niederreiter had his first career three-goal game and backup goalie Niklas Backstrom stopped 25 shots on Thursday night as the Minnesota Wild broke out of a scoring slump for a 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres to snap a four-game skid.
The Wild have been missing leading scorer Zach Parise since Nov. 4. He's out with a concussion and Minnesota scored two goals in three straight losses without him.
But the Wild regained their scoring touch early Thursday, notching four goals and 20 shots in the first period.
"We needed that just to get things turned around," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We did a lot of good things to generate some offense . now we have to build off that."
Meanwhile, the Sabres lost their fifth straight and gave up six goals for their third consecutive game. They've allowed at least four goals in nine of 18 games this season.
"It's kind of sad to watch team after team after team go through us in the defensive zone like we don't know what we're doing," Nolan said. "We have so many guys puck-staring, watching the puck and not being aware of what's behind them. We're at the National Hockey League level. You'd think you'd be teaching at the junior level and in the American Hockey League level, but at this level you would think guys would be aware of their surroundings."
After Rasmus Ristolainen scored his first goal of the season just 1:03 in for Buffalo, the teams combined for three goals in a 17-second span midway through the period.
First Minnesota's Ryan Carter tied it when he slipped behind Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth and batted a puck out of midair with the shaft of his stick.
"That was a quick play," said Carter, who looked like a baseball player laying down a bunt. "I don't know how I thought of it or why I did it. It worked out."
Seven seconds later, Charlie Coyle carried the puck into the Sabres' zone and straight up the slot before dumping it to Niederreiter, who made a move and slipped it past Enroth.
But that lead lasted just 10 seconds. Buffalo's Zemgus Girgensons took a pass from Tyler Ennis in the neutral zone, sped past the Wild defense and beat Darcy Kuemper high to tie the game at 2.
Yeo then pulled Kuemper, who had given up two goals on two shots. Backstrom came on in relief and held Buffalo in check the rest of the way as the Wild took control of the game.
"I just felt that's what we needed," Yeo said. "Those aren't easy decisions but what good teams and what close teams do is they bail out their teammates."
While Backstrom stonewalled the Sabres, the Wild kept their foot on the gas offensively. First, Kyle Brodziak converted a pass from Justin Fontaine from behind the net to put Minnesota back on top 3-2. Then Niederreiter and Jared Spurgeon scored rare power-play goals to expand the Minnesota lead to 5-2.
The Wild entered the game with the worst mark in the league with the man advantage (2-for-44), but they had a number of close calls on their recent winless road trip and finally broke through with two goals in four opportunities Thursday.
"That's hockey," Carter said. "Hockey's a weird sport. Sometimes they go in when they should and sometimes they don't when they should. You've just got to stick with it."
Niederreiter completed the hat trick and sealed the game with his team-high seventh of the season, scoring into an empty net with 2:28 to play.
NOTES: The Wild played without two key defensemen, Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin. Both players were missing due to illness. . Minnesota put Parise on injured reserve Thursday and replaced him on the active roster with Spurgeon. . Sabres RW Patrick Kaleta played in his first NHL game since Oct. 10, 2013 on Thursday. He missed most of last year with a knee injury and missed Buffalo's first 17 games this season after taking a puck to the face in preseason.
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