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Blue Jackets defeat Sabres, who will finish 30th

by Craig Merz /

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets ended their home schedule in record fashion with a 4-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Nationwide Arena on Friday.

The Blue Jackets are 11-0-1 in the past 12 games to tie their longest point streak (Feb. 26 to March 22, 2013) and equaled their record six-game home winning streak (Dec. 26, 2007 to Jan. 15, 2008).

"I can't say enough about the group of guys in here," Columbus forward Nick Foligno said. "It's been a disappointing season, let's not forget that. I'm proud of how we handled adversity. We've been mature about it, professional about it."

Columbus (41-35-5) finished the season 19-20-2 at Nationwide Arena and out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Home ice has got to be a better place to play, and we've made a conscious effort of that down the stretch," Foligno said.

Todd Richards won his 126th game as Blue Jackets coach (126-105-21) to pass Ken Hitchcock for the most in their history.

"There's a good feel right now," Richards said. "I'm very proud of the team."

The Sabres (23-50-8) will finish 30th in the League standings and pick no lower than second in the 2015 NHL Draft, likely to select Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, potential franchise-turning players.

Buffalo has a 20 percent chance of getting the first pick through the NHL Draft Lottery on April 18. But that was not on the mind of Sabres right wing Brian Gionta.

"It's been frustrating, there's no doubt about it," he said of the season. "Where we sit is not where we want to be. There's a lot of corrections to be made, but you can't dwell on the past. You have to look forward."

Columbus ends its season Saturday at the New York Islanders.

The Sabres are home Saturday to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in a critical game for the Penguins, who would clinch a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win.

"You want to go out on a high note," Gionta said.

The Blue Jackets also are thinking ahead to next season after going 14-1-1 in the past 16 games. A record number of injuries long ago derailed any chance of making the playoffs for a second straight season.

"It's amazing when our whole team is healthy," Columbus right wing Cam Atkinson said. "We're a pretty good team. It's too bad it's at the end of the season that we're doing this. We have a lot to look forward to throughout the summer and into next season."

Atkinson broke a 2-2 tie with 9:25 left in the third period. He scored off a long rebound after a shot from Dalton Prout. Seven of Atkinson's 21 goals have been game-winners.

Boone Jenner scored an empty-net goal for his ninth with 50 seconds remaining to back 23 saves by Sergei Bobrovsky. Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert scored for Columbus, and defensemen David Savard and Jack Johnson each had two assists.

Gionta and Mikhail Grigorenko scored, and Anders Lindback made 36 saves for Buffalo.

"When they turn it up it shows the difference in the skill set," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "We've got a group of guys that work extremely hard but lack the experience at this level. You look at the other team and they've got some world-class players."

The Blue Jackets took the lead 14 seconds into the game. Foligno scored his Blue Jackets-leading 31st goal from between the circles with a slap shot after a pass from Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky has three goals and seven assists in a seven-game point streak.

Marcus Foligno, Nick's younger brother, helped the Sabres tie it 1-1 at 2:25. He outmuscled Prout behind the net and fed Gionta in front. Gionta put a drop pass onto the stick of Grigorenko for his third goal.

Calvert, with his 13th, made it 2-1 at 9:35 of the first. He has three goals in four games.

The Sabres rallied for a second time to tie the score when Gionta converted Buffalo's second power play with 59 seconds left in the second. He snapped a shot off the rush for his 13th goal and has a goal and an assist in two straight games.

"I'm proud of these guys the way they worked, the way they battled," Nolan said. "They never give up. Unfortunately we have a couple [of players] that aren't doing it, and those are the ones that are costing us."

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