By the time the Sabres could recover, the Avalanche built what proved to be an insurmountable lead in hanging on for a 5-4 victory.
"We're a young, fast team. That's part of our identity this year," center Tyson Jost said. "I like what we did that today, so that's something we have to use to our advantage because we do have young legs."
Then, Jost and Gabriel Bourque sealed the win by converting rebounds less than four minutes apart to build the Avalanche lead to 5-2 with 12:57 remaining in a game Colorado never trailed.
Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots and the Avalanche won for the third time in nine games (3-5-1) to keep pace in a tightly contested race for the Western Conference's final two wild card spots. The Avalanche now have 64 points, just two behind Minnesota for the last playoff position.
Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and two assists in Buffalo's first game without leading scorer Jack Eichel, who will miss between four and six weeks with a sprained right ankle. Eichel was hurt in a 4-2 win at Boston on Saturday.
Eichel's absence wasn't the issue for the Sabres. They were instead undone by a meltdown from their top defenseman, Ristolainen, who was on the ice for all five Colorado goals.
The trouble began when Kerfoot scored 43 seconds in by tapping in Wilson's pass on a two-man breakaway after both sneaked in behind Ristolainen and Nathan Beaulieu. Nieto's short-handed goal that put Colorado up 2-1 came after Ristolainen muffed on keeping the puck in at the Avalanche blue line.
Then Wilson's 100th career goal was set up by captain Gabriel Landeskog, who forced Ristolainen to give up the puck in his own zone.
"It's just a bad game and it should not happen," said Ristolainen, who was benched for much of the remainder of the second period.
Coach Phil Housley didn't mince words when asked about the defenseman's struggles.
"I think you saw the game," Housley said. "I think there's some passengers tonight that weren't prepared to play the game."
The Avalanche made up for the absence of their leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, who missed his sixth game with an upper body injury.
The five goals against Buffalo matched Colorado's combined output in going 1/3 in its previous four outings.
"At times, it was a little bit of a strange game," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of an outing in which the teams combined for three short-handed and two power-play goals. "It wasn't pretty, but it's a big win for our team, no question."
Bednar said MacKinnon has been skating at home and has a chance to return soon.