COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Cam Atkinson scored on a rebound midway through the third period and Sergei Bobrovsky made 23 saves to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 4-2 victory over Buffalo on Friday night, assuring the Sabres the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft.
The regulation loss locked up the worst overall record in the league for the Sabres and the best odds of procuring gifted forward Connor McDavid or Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel.
The Blue Jackets, who also got goals from Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert and an empty-netter from Boone Jenner, tied franchise records with their sixth consecutive home win and 12th game in a row earning at least a point (11-0-1). Todd Richards also became the Blue Jackets’ leader in coaching victories with 126, one more than Ken Hitchcock.
Brian Gionta had a goal and an assist and Mikhail Grigorenko also scored for the Sabres, who dropped to 23-50-8. Anders Lindback had 36 saves.
In what is being called one of the most talent-laden and deepest drafts in recent years, the Sabres would have the best chance of getting one of the top players available. Sabres fans cheered after Atkinson’s goal and also after the final horn.
With the score tied at 2, the Blue Jackets got the big goal.
Shortly after killing off a third consecutive Sabres power play, Lindback got most of Dalton Prout’s hard shot from the right point. But the rebound came out to the right circle where Atkinson rocketed it past Lindback.
It was Atkinson’s 21st goal of the season — and seventh game-winning goal.
The Blue Jackets led 2-1 after a wide-open first period.
Foligno extended his career high with his 31st goal just 14 seconds in — the fastest goal to start a game all season for the Blue Jackets. Dubinsky carried the puck behind the cage while shadowed by a defender, sliding a puck through the slot off a Sabre’s stick to Foligno, who was trailing the play.
The Sabres responded at the 2:25 mark with Grigorenko collecting his third. Marcus Foligno, Nick’s younger brother, passed to Gionta, who flipped a blind, backward pass to Grigorenko for the goal.
Columbus retook the lead at the 9:35 mark with Calvert converting with a hard slap shot from the left circle off a cross-ice pass from David Savard.
Late in the period, Ryan Johansen’s wrist shot from the left wing while on the power play caught the crossbar.
Lindback had a spectacular first 20 minutes despite the two goals, stopping 15 shots — many coming in bunches.
Boone Jenner stole the puck and had Lindback beaten on a breakaway but his shot hit the post early in the second period.
Late in the period, Johansen went off for tripping. A defensive lapse left Gionta all alone with speed near the blue line and he swooped in to beat Bobrovsky from the left hash mark.
That tied it heading into the third.
Notes: Buffalo recalled D Chad Ruhwedel from AHL Rochester on Friday. … The Blue Jackets finished with a franchise-record 505 man-games lost to injury. They totaled 292 a year ago. … The Sabres had won their last two games in Columbus. … The Blue Jackets last won six home games in a row from Dec. 26, 2007 to Jan. 15, 2008. They put together a 12-game points streak (8-0-4) two years ago. … Richards is now 126-105-21 with the Blue Jackets. Hitchcock, now the coach of the St. Louis Blues, was 125-123-36. … Jack Johnson and Savard each had two assists for Columbus. Calvert also assisted on the late Jenner empty-netter.
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