COLUMBUS – It’s almost over for the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres. They wrapped up their final road game of the year on Friday in disappointing fashion.
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson netted the game-winning goal with 9:25 left in regulation to lift the Blue Jackets over the Sabres by a 4-2 score at Nationwide Arena. Mikhail Grigorenko and captain Brian Gionta were Buffalo’s goal scorers. Anders Lindback stopped 36 of 39 shots. Only one game remains on the schedule.
“It’s frustrating to get that loss. It was not a clean game by any means by us and we still gave ourselves a chance,” Gionta said. “If we cleaned some things off, we would’ve been much better off.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan was pleased for the most part with the way his team battled, not only through this game, but through a difficult season as a whole.
“You look at the opposition, they’re a good team and they’ve got some class players on that team that when they turn it up, it shows you the difference in the skill set,” Nolan said. “That’s all. We got a group of guys that work extremely hard but we’ve got a lot of guys that lack experience at this level.”
With a goal and an assist, Gionta has six multi-point games in his past nine. According to Elias Sports Bureau, only Calgary’s Jiri Hudler has been that productive over a nine-game stretch this season.
Gionta also has 16 points (6+10) in his past 13 games, giving him a total of 35 points in 68 games this year.
With the loss, the Sabres are guaranteed to finish in last place and have the best odds to win the NHL Draft Lottery. The Sabres can pick no worse than second in the upcoming draft.
“It’s been frustrating, there’s no doubt about it,” Gionta said. “Where we sit is not where we want to be so there are a lot of corrections to be made. But you can’t dwell on what’s happened in the past. You’ve got to look forward and try to find answers and not place blame.”
Columbus wasted no time in scoring their first goal of the game. Just 14 seconds in, Nick Foligno bounced on a loose puck in the slot to beat Lindback for his 31st goal of the season.
The Sabres were quick to answer. Working behind the net, Marcus Foligno sent the puck out to Gionta. A drop pass from Gionta landed on the stick of Grigorenko, who then roofed a shot over Sergei Bobrovsky 2:25 into the first. Grigorenko now has goals in back-to-back games after scoring on Monday against Carolina.
“We know they’ve been really good lately and they came flying out,” Lindback said. “We bounced back and got a goal back. That was huge and we kept it 2-1 in the first period. We worked ourselves back into the game and unfortunately it didn’t go all the way.”
The Blue Jackets jumped back into the lead when Matt Calvert put one past Lindback at the 9:35 mark of the first period to go ahead 2-1.
Gionta then tied it with a power-play goal with 58.4 seconds remaining in the second period to make it 2-2.
However, the Blue Jackets were able to take the lead and hang on for the win with Atkinson’s goal. Boone Jenner scored on an empty net with 9.7 seconds left in regulation to ice the game.
“Lindy played a great game again kept us in the game for a long time,” Grigorenko said. “They had a lot of scoring chances but I thought we created some good opportunities, too. We’ve just got to eliminate those mistakes that we create ourselves like turnovers and unforced mistakes like that that cost us the game.”
ONE TO GO
With the road portion of the 2014-15 season in the books, the Sabres will close out the year at home on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Fan Appreciation Night. Pittsburgh will be fighting for their playoff lives as they lost to the New York Islanders on Friday.
“I don’t know about being spoilers. Pittsburgh’s a very talented team,” Nolan said. “So the only thing we want to go out and do is just go out and give our best and see what happens.”
The Tops Game Night pregame show is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and CityTV. Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
“It’s no position you ever want to be in as a player but it is what it is,” Lindback said. “We’ve got a game tomorrow. I think it’s huge for us to finish strong and show people that we keep working and keep trying to get better.”