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What We Learned: BUF 3, CBJ 1

Artemi Panarin's late goal isn't enough to spark another Jackets comeback

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

BUFFALO - He carried the puck up the right wing, and cut sharply to the middle.

There was a defender in Artemi Panarin's way, so he just slid the puck past him, deftly, and popped free for quick a backhand on the other side. The puck ripped into the back of the net, just under the crossbar, and it felt like Monday all over again.

There was 6:15 left in the third period when Panarin scored Thursday at KeyBank Center, and the Blue Jackets trailed the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1. It was a mirror image of Monday, when they scored two late goals to tie the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre and then win in overtime on a goal by Panarin.

It really felt that way on Panarin's next shift, when he rung a slap shot off the crossbar.

"We were pushing," Columbus coach John Tortorella said, following the Sabres' 3-1 victory. "I thought we were going to tie it up. [Panarin] hits a crossbar a couple shifts after he scores his first goal, we had a couple opportunities … didn't score."

It wasn't Monday, after all. 

It was Thursday, in Buffalo, and there wasn't another dramatic comeback inside the Jackets' bag of tricks.

After Panarin hit the crossbar, less than a minute after his goal, the Sabres (11-24-9) polished off their victory to snap a four-game losing streak. They got goals from Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Okposo, and Jack Eichel scored into an empty net with six seconds left to seal it.

The Blue Jackets, however, did make things interesting.

Panarin hit the goalpost twice before he scored, and then he sent that shot off the crossbar. Those were three of his six misses in a game-high 13 shot attempts. Columbus (25-17-3) outshot the Sabres 34-14 in the final two periods, as well, finishing with 45-29 shot advantage for the game.

They just couldn't solve Linus Ullmark more than once.

 The 6-foot-4, 221-pound goalie, who started his first game of the season for the Sabres, stopped just about everything he saw. He made a career-high 44 saves, and outdueled Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who allowed just two goals on 28 shots.

Columbus now has one game left before getting its mandated five-day bye, and that game is against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday at Nationwide Arena.

They were close to earning a chance for another back-to-back sweep, but close doesn't come with any points in the standings.

"Each game is different," Bobrovsky said. "It's not easy to score goals here, and it's tough to get points for us. Every game is different, a different scenario, and [Friday's] another one, so we have to be ready."

Here's what we learned:

I: GOAL OF THE NIGHT

Panarin was a one-man wrecking crew in this game, even if he did only wind up with the one goal and a minus-2 plus/minus rating. He played 23:15, had those eye-popping 13 shot attempts and also scored the goal of the game.

In fact, it's one of the best goals of the season scored by any player on any team anywhere.

"He's a superstar, so it's so much fun to watch him, how he plays," Bobrovsky said. "I always say that he sees the ice very well. He can do anything with [his] forehand, backhand. We are so lucky to have him on our side."

His goal was further proof.

After getting the puck from Zach Werenski near the red line in the neutral zone, Panarin danced up ice, using some slight head fakes to carry the puck into the Buffalo zone and get the Sabres on their heels.

He scooted around Scott Wilson to the outside, up the right-wing boards, and then slipped the puck slightly behind him and to the inside to avoid a poke check by defenseman Justin Falk.

He recollected it, carried it to the inside of the right circle, lower half, and let go a backhand that just beat Ullmark past the glove - ripping into the net under the crossbar near the top right corner.

"I think he surprised everybody, even them," Werenski said. "There wasn't much room there, and he made it work. It was a great backhand, top corner. It was a huge goal for us in the game, but we have to find a way to answer after that too."

Panarin almost did with his slapper off the crossbar, but that was the third time he'd struck metal in the game. The one that didn't, however, was still special.

"I've been impressed with him from Day 1, as far as what he can do," Tortorella said. "That goal he scores, he's on the ice for two minutes prior. He's an impressive player."

And that was an impressive goal. It will probably be replayed quite a bit on television, and also got a little rerun on the videoboard inside the arena. Bobrovsky already had it committed to memory, though.

"I saw it live, so why see it on the scoreboard?" he said, smiling. "Yes, I was amazed, but not surprised. He's a superstar. It's just fun to watch what he [does] in the NHL."

II: CLOSE CALLS

Here's a thought: Panarin was mere inches from having a four-goal game.

That's how close he came to scoring on three other occasions outside of the one he did get past Ullmark. The dynamic Russian winger was locked in Thursday, but hit metal three times.

The first one was the most vexing, and was similar to his goal.

Panarin got the puck below the right circle in the Buffalo zone with nearly eight minutes gone in the first, and lifted a backhand at the net. Ullmark couldn't get it, but the puck hit the inside of the right post and bounced along ice in front of the goal.

It slid out of harm's way, and the game remained 0-0. Pouliot soon made it 1-0 for the Sabres at 11:41, less than four minutes later.

In the second, with 2:36 left, Panarin hit the post again. This time, it was the left post off a shot from the circle. The puck hit metal, bounced off the end wall and kept the Sabres up, 1-0.

In the third, after his 12th goal made it 2-1, he rung one off the crossbar with 5:23 left. That one was a slap shot, which loudly struck metal, keeping the Blue Jackets behind by a goal, 2-1.

We hit a couple of posts, a crossbar," Tortorella said. "We're not on the inside enough. Their goalie played very well. I think for us beat him, a big athletic goalie like that, we need to get some rebounds."

Video: CBJ@BUF: Panarin roofs backhand for terrific PPG

III: WENNBERG RETURNS

He was supposed to be out four-to-six weeks, but Alexander Wennberg missed just a little more than two weeks with his back injury. He was out eight games with the injury, his second of the season but having him back quicker than expected is a nice boost to the Blue Jackets' depth up front.

"It gives us some different things to solidify some lines," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said, prior to the game.

Tortorella moved Boone Jenner out of the center position with Wennberg back, putting him back on the left wing of Wennberg's line. He could've kept Jenner in the middle, bumped Lukas Sedlak to center of the fourth line and had a center lineup of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Wennberg, Jenner and Sedlak.

Instead, Tortorella said Jenner looks more comfortable on the outside. Jenner, the Blue Jackets' best at winning face-offs, split draws with Wennberg throughout the game.

As for Wennberg, he went into the game motivated to pick up where he left off. He'd begun to play well prior to the injury, which happened in the Jackets' 5-4 shootout loss Dec. 27 at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It felt like I was playing better, and then the injury happened," he said. "There's just nothing you can do about it. Obviously, you want to be out there playing. You want to build on something, but right now, I'm not taking a step back. I want to start with the same [level I was playing]. I'm not focusing on what happened. I'm focusing on the future, right now, and I'm excited for it."

IV: CLOSE CALLS, PART II

Just as the Blue Jackets are starting to get some injured guys close to returning, they nearly had three more head to the sidelines with health issues.

Josh Anderson was struck in the hand by a slapshot in the first period, but remained in the game after being attended to on the bench. Tyler Motte and Markus Hannikainen collided hard in front of the Sabres' net later in the first, and Motte left the ice slowly, hunched over in pain.

He, too, got attention and returned to the game. In the second period, Wennberg was struck in the foot by a slap shot and hobbled around the ice before heading to the bench slowly. After staying on the bench for a few minutes, Wennberg returned to the game and appeared to be fine.

V: NOT ENOUGH BLUE

This was the eighth time the Blue Jackets have finished with 40-plus shots this season, and second in the past three games.

They had a season-high 48 in a 3-2 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers on Sunday at Nationwide Arena, but that included a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime session. This one ended in regulation, so it was the most shots they've had this season in a game that lasts 60 minutes.

Even more impressive is the fact they didn't create many rebounds for second-chance opportunities. The Jackets were kept to the outside of the offensive zone too often, and the opposing goalie had a big game.

"It's not bad, but it's all from the outside," Werenski said of the shot total. "We have no second chances or rebounds, or [chances] in the blue [paint]. We have to get guys in [Ullmark's] eyes. He's a good goalie, a big goalie. He saved everything he saw. We have to do a better job of getting guys in his eyes, and [getting] tips and rebounds, stuff like that."

This was not the first time it's happened. It's been a recurring issue they're trying to fix. Tortorella was asked about getting to the inside of the offensive zone last week, and said it's a mix of will and skill.

"It's both," he said. "Talented people know how to get to the middle of the ice, or make a play like a give-and-go to get in the middle of the ice, and then there's certain situations in a game where you just need to drive without a puck, get near the blue, maybe put a screen on a goalie and find some area to gain some rebounds."

Thursday night, he didn't want to dissect what went wrong. He just knew there weren't enough Blue Jackets uniforms in the high-danger areas of the ice.

"We know we need to get inside," Tortorella said. "It's easy to pick it apart. There were some shifts we're right there, and sometimes the puck bounces and different things happen, so I'm not going to get into a long dissertation about getting guys to the inside."

VI: JONES FOR NORRIS

Seth Jones had another assist, but also had some poor luck on Buffalo's second goal.

It was scored by Okposo at 7:18 of the third period after an odd bounce off the end boards caught Jones looking over his shoulder. The puck caromed out to Okposo for an easy goal, with Bobrovsky behind the net.

"It's just a bad goal," Tortorella said. "It's a bad goal. It is what it is. Jonesy's shoulder checking to see where the forechecking is, and right when he takes his eye off it, that's when it comes off the kickboard."

It was a rare miscue for Jones, who was named to his second NHL All-Star roster Wednesday.

One tough break, however, doesn't overshadow his role in Columbus weathering a slew of injuries this season. He's the Jackets' second-leading scorer with 29 points, trailing only Panarin's 37, and he entered this game with consecutive two-assist games.

Prior to the game, Tortorella said he was happy for Jones - who made the Metropolitan Division's All-Star roster for the second year in row. He also lobbied for Jones to be considered for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman.

"There are some really good candidates out there, but you start getting into other things, as far as the Norris, I think he needs to be in the conversation," Tortorella said. "I'm not exactly sure the definition of a Norris winner now, but he's one of the top defensemen in this league and this is very well reserved."

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