DENVER — It was too little too late for the Avalanche’s third-period comeback attempt on Thursday. Colorado fell behind by three goals before scoring twice in the third period to try to force overtime. But an eventual empty-netter from Buffalo’s Dylan Cozens put the game away.

The Avs lost 4-2 to Buffalo at Ball Arena in the second matchup between the two clubs this season. Colorado won the first matchup on the road. In that game, forward Tage Thompson had three points but the Avalanche managed to get five past Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who made 39 saves to seal the victory in the rematch.

Luukkonen was especially on his game in the third, where he faced 17 shots and stopped 15. Colorado outshot the Sabres 17-1 in the final frame. The only shot against was the empty-net goal from Cozens.

“Their goalie was good. Give him credit,” coach Jared Bednar said. “I don’t think we had enough traffic to the net on some of our early chances. Didn’t shoot the puck that well. And even when we did get traffic he was good.”

Thompson once again found the back of the net against the Avs. He opened the scoring just 54 seconds in to give Buffalo a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game. The Sabres built on that lead before the first period was eight minutes old.

“Sleeping. Sleeping early,” Bednar said. “They had two in the first seven minutes.”

The comeback attempt began following more than 52 minutes of scoreless hockey for the Avs. Mikko Rantanen finished a 2-on-1 one-timer play off a pass from Valeri Nichushkin. The goal was his team-leading 20th of the season, becoming the seventh player to reach the mark this season. Among those ahead of him is Thompson, who is second in the NHL with 24 goals.

Evan Rodrigues later made it 3-2 while the Avalanche were on a 6-on-5 attack. His seventh of the season — in his first game back from injury — came with 1:22 remaining.

Prior to the third, a number of Colorado’s top players were outplayed on every Sabres tally. Thompson’s goal was a nifty play where the last man back was Rantanen, but he was beaten cleanly before Thompson scored. On the second goal, which came from Alex Tuch on the power play, the Buffalo forward won a battle in front of the net against Avs blueliner Devon Toews. And on the third goal, a Cale Makar turnover led to the Rasmus Dahlin goal.

Top-line forwards Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin and Rantanen, and top-pair defensemen Samuel Girard and Makar were all minus-2 after the second period.

“Defensively our line, you know, two goals against,” Rantanen said. “Defensive breakdowns. When you go down 3-0 it’s hard to come back.”

Alexandar Georgiev started after getting two consecutive games off. He made 17 saves and didn’t face a shot in the third period. Colorado outshot the Sabres 41-21 thanks to their 17-1 advantage in the third. Following his fifth loss in six games, Georgiev is 11-6-2 but is 1-4-1 with a .876 save percentage since Nov. 26.

The only game during this stretch where he surrendered fewer than three goals was the 2-1 shootout loss to his former team, the New York Rangers, last week. His only victory was the Dec. 1, the 6-4 triumph over the Sabres.

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