Top line boosts Blue Jackets past Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Columbus Blue Jackets, looking for a spark from their top line Thursday, got a goal from each first-line forward in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Blue Jackets (2-1-0) scored three first-period goals and notched their first regulation win of the season, getting a goal each from first-line players Cam Atkinson, Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky in front of an announced crowd of 18,210 at First Niagara Center.
Nick Foligno also scored for the visitors.
Atkinson’s first goal of the season came 1:51 into the first period. Atkinson picked up the rebound of a Gaborik shot from the middle of the ice, slipped behind a lunging Sabres defense and knocked the puck into the open net to the right of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.
“We were fortunate to get one on our first shift of the game,” said Dubinsky, who scored at 2:11 of the second period to make it 4-1 Blue Jackets. “Any time that happens, it gives you a little confidence, a little extra jump in your step.”
Atkinson, who netted a shootout winner for Columbus against the New York Islanders on Saturday night, combined with Gaborik and Dubinsky to buzz a Sabres defense that is struggling in front of Miller this season.
“The chemistry between us three has definitely grown,” Atkinson said. “It’s fun to play with those guys.”
Buffalo (0-4-1) looked disjointed in its own end, unable to contain the Columbus wingers and clear the puck away from Miller’s crease.
After a Thomas Vanek goal evened the game at 8:50 of the first, Foligno scored when a centering pass deflected off a pair of Sabres defensemen and found its way past Miller. Foligno was the last Columbus player to touch the puck before it went off Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers’ stick and Mike Weber’s skate to trickle past a helpless Miller.
“They got their fair share of breaks,” said Miller, who made 29 saves in the loss, his first game back after missing two games with a groin injury. “They made good plays getting pucks to the net, but they certainly got some bounces. You have to shake those off and just try to move forward. If they’re getting dirty goals, maybe you get some, too.”
Instead of a dirty goal, the Sabres saw Columbus extend the lead to 3-1 when Gaborik cashed in a Sabres turnover in the offensive zone. The right winger one-timed a feed from Ryan Murray on a 2-on-1. Murray cut toward the middle of the ice and sent a pass across to Gaborik, who put it past a sprawling Miller as Weber skidded into the net.
Dubinsky’s backhand extended the lead in the second period, the center putting a rebound past Miller off a David Savard point shot. Buffalo did little to mount a comeback in the game’s final frames.
“I thought we were actually playing well until we made some mistakes at the end of the first,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “We were playing good hockey. They scored the first goal, but I felt we got back at it and we bounced back with a goal. We had a couple bad plays at the end of the first period to make it 3-1, and it deflates your bench.”
The lone goal for Buffalo was impressive, with Vanek finishing a nice passing play to even the score at 1. Cody Hodgson dumped the puck into the far corner, and Steve Ott found Vanek all alone in front of the Columbus net. Vanek accepted the pass through his legs and lifted a shot past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Vanek’s second of the season gave Buffalo a brief boost, but two Blue Jackets goals 2:13 apart stunned the still-winless Sabres.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said of the struggling Sabres. “I have somewhat of an idea of what they’re going through. It’s more of the mental side of it.
“When you’re struggling there’s doubt. If you can do the right things and carry the momentum and score first and get a lead, the longer the game goes on, the more doubt that starts to creep in on the other side.”
“Guys played hard,” said Bobrovsky, who made 26 saves in his second consecutive win. “They blocked shots. They played good systematically in the zone.”
The netminder faced just eight shots in each of the final two periods but stopped Vanek on a breakaway late in the third to maintain the three-goal lead.
NOTES: Atkinson scored his first regulation goal of the season after delivering the shootout winner against the New York Islanders on Saturday night. ... Foligno, a Buffalo native, scored a goal in Buffalo for the first time in his career. Foligno has four career goals against his father Mike’s former team. ... Vanek scored his 252nd career goal as a Sabre, tying him with Craig Ramsay for fifth in team history. ... Sabres C Mikhail Grigorenko was a healthy scratch for the first time this season, replaced by rookie C Johan Larsson. Grigorenko is minus-3 with no points in five games this season.