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Johansen helps Blue Jackets get by Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- Ryan Johansen did not participate in training camp, but that and a bit of fatigue couldn't stop him from making a difference for the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

Cam Atkinson's tiebreaking power-play goal with 7:15 left in the third period, assisted by Johansen, helped the Blue Jackets to a 3-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center in the season opener for each team.

Atkinson's goal came with three seconds remaining on a hooking penalty to Sabres captain Brian Gionta. Atkinson found room after a quick pass from Johansen set him up to the right of goalie Jhonas Enroth; he skated around Sabres defenseman Andre Benoit, who went down to block a shot.

"[Atkinson's] so highly skilled, especially in that spot there in the middle, he's got such a quick release, if he ever gets time there, he'll make a good play or give us a chance to score," Johansen said. "Then [Nick Foligno] down low, a big strong body, takes pucks to the net hard and also has great hands. Then we've got [defensemen] that can really shoot the puck.

"It was a great game by our guys and the power play was strong. Like I said, all aspects of our game [were] good tonight."

Johansen, who missed training camp and the preseason before signing a three-year contract, played 14:02.

"You know what you're going to get out of Ryan, and I'm sure a lot of people and fans didn't know what to expect from him tonight, and it was typical [Johansen] that we all love and know what he can do with and without the puck," Atkinson said. "He created a lot of space for me and [Foligno] and we got a lot of scoring chances."

Johansen admitted he was tired after the game, but not as tired as he thought he would be after missing so much time in the preseason.

"He's a difference-maker. He's an impact player," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "You get him out on the ice. Once he gets his timing down and gets his conditioning up where it can and should be, he'll be a great player for us."

The Blue Jackets took a two-goal lead when Artem Anisimov scored on a one-timer off a pass from Scott Hartnell with 2:26 left on Columbus' 40th shot of the game.

"We're a big strong team that can skate," Richards said. "We're going to use our legs and our size. We can wear teams down. I think there were certain points where we were starting to wear them down."

The Blue Jackets' style of play picked up where it left off last season, when they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We didn't have any passengers tonight," Richards said. "It was a total team effort. [Sergei] Bobrovsky came up with some key saves when we needed him. All four lines were going and all the defensemen were going."

Enroth stopped 37 shots for Buffalo; Bobrovsky made 21 saves for Columbus. The shot total faced by Enroth evoked memories of last season when the Sabres had the worst record in the NHL and the worst in their history (21-51-10).

"We don't want to go through that season we had last year," Enroth said. "We want to win more games. We don't really care who's getting drafted next year. We want to win every game."

Forward Jack Skille gave Columbus a 1-0 lead with 6:39 remaining in the second period when he snapped a wrist shot past Enroth. Skille, who was acquired on waivers from the New York Islanders on Sunday, scored over the shoulder of Enroth on a 2-on-1 break with Michael Chaput against Sabres defenseman Andrej Meszaros.

"I looked over at [Chaput] and saw the defenseman slide and also heard the bench screaming from the red line in to shoot," Skille said. "No, it was good. It was a great play by [Jared Boll] on the wall and [Chaput] too, smart play. I was fortunate to read it pretty well and 2-on-1 the whole way down."

Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons tied the game 1:21 after Skille's goal when he beat Bobrovsky on a short breakaway. Girgensons got behind the defense after he poked the puck past Blue Jackets forward Alexander Wennberg and scored five-hole. It's the second consecutive season Girgensons scored the first goal of the season for the Sabres; he did it against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 2, 2013.

"I didn't like our effort tonight," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "I think it was OK at best. I don't know what it was. I think guys really wanted to do it. Maybe there's just too much jitters about the home opener, there's too much hype about it."

Sabres forward Sam Reinhart, the second pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, had no shots on goal and no points in his NHL debut. His highlight moment came 9:09 into the third period when he set up Cody Hodgson for a wrist shot that was stopped by Bobrovsky.

"He was OK, for an 18-year-old kid jumping in against a team like Columbus that's a pretty quick team," Nolan said. "They're a good team and he gets to do it again next game against Chicago (on Saturday). … Every team in this league is a good team, so he's got to understudy quick."

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