COLUMBUS – The Buffalo Sabres picked up a big win Tuesday night, but lost two key forwards in the process.
Buffalo earned two points on the road with a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Cody Hodgson, Zemgus Girgensons, Mark Pysyk and Chris Stewart scored for the Sabres and Michal Neuvirth made 45 saves.
Matt Calvert and Kevin Connauton posted markers for the Blue Jackets. Anton Forsberg made his fourth-career start for Columbus. He’s still searching for his first NHL victory.
However, Girgensons’ night ended he blocked a shot off his right foot midway through the second period. A big slap shot from the point by James Wisniewski appeared to go off Girgensons’ heel and, in visible pain, he had to be helped off the ice, putting virtually no pressure on that right leg.
“He’s a fearless kid. We’ve got a lot of our guys who are like that and he’s certainly one of the guys leading the way,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
Tyler Ennis played his last shift at the end of the second period. He was then ruled out with a lower-body injury that Nolan said is the result of “wear and tear.”
The team will wait for further evaluations on each player. Nolan is concerned that Girgensons’ injury could be season-ending, but is waiting for official word. He said Ennis could miss anywhere from a few days to a week.
Those injuries meant Buffalo was without two-thirds if its top line during critical situations in which they were trying to hold onto a lead. The forwards were already tasked with playing a few extra shifts to begin with because Nicolas Deslauriers was playing with an illness.
Buffalo was able to lock it down and prevent a Blue Jackets rally even as they were outshot 18-4 in the third period.
“We did what we had to do in the third,” Neuvirth said. “We didn’t give up any odd-man rushes or breakaways. We stuck to our game plan and it’s good for us to get the two points.”
Nolan called it a “gutsy performance” and the players thought they were able to make the most of their opportunities without sacrificing sound defensive play.
“We did a real good job of waiting and being patient,” Hodgson said. “Especially in the third period that we capitalize on our chances, that we didn’t give them anything and we waited until they gave us something.”
AHEAD OF THE GAME
Buffalo had a 2-0 lead in the first intermission thanks to goals from Hodgson and Girgensons.
Hodgson carried the puck down the left wing and threw what seemed like a harmless backhand on Forsberg. Forsberg tried to catch it with his glove, but fumbled the puck and it ended up trickling between his legs and into the back of the net 9:30 in.
It was Hodgson’s third of the season and his first goal since Dec. 13 against Florida.
“That was the main thing, just throw everything on net,” Hodgson said. “And we’ve been trying to do that every night and it just happened that tonight we got some fortunate bounces and it worked out in our favor.”
Girgensons then scored shorthanded with 5:18 left in the first. He rushed in hard on net, cut in on defenseman Cody Goloubef and put a move on a sprawling Forsberg to tie Tyler Ennis for the team-lead in goals with 15.
It was Girgensons’ third shorthanded marker of the season. He’s the third Sabres player to score three shorthanded goals in a season since Derek Roy, Dan Paille and Jaroslav Spacek did so in 2007-08.
The eventual game winner came as a result of Pysyk becoming active in the offensive zone. He called for the puck from the point and then put a shot on net that deflected off a Columbus player and in just two minutes into the second.
Nolan was pleased to see Pysyk be more involved offensively.
“He jumped up because he’s a smart player,” Nolan said. “He knows when to and when not to and that was a perfect chance for him to jump in.”
That goal came as a quick response to a tally by Matt Calvert 1:18 into the middle frame that made it 2-1.
Buffalo would score again quickly to go ahead by two goals when Stewart scored on the power play at the 4:30 mark.
Connauton’s goal came 7:24 into the second as he scored on a blocked shot that came right onto his stick to easily wrist the puck in.
The Sabres are home on Thursday night when the Vancouver Canucks wrap up a five-game road trip. The Tops Game Night pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell with puck drop set for 7 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.