BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Eric Robinson enjoyed the first three-goal game of his career, and the Columbus Blue Jackets weathered a late comeback bid to beat Buffalo 5-3 and stall the Sabres’ playoff push Tuesday night.
Boone Jenner and Kent Johnson also scored for a Columbus team that won its league-low seventh road game of the season. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 39 shots and added an assist for the last-place Blue Jackets, who are already looking ahead to next season by offloading pending free agents before the NHL trade deadline Friday.
Robinson sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with 36 seconds remaining, as Columbus avoided squandering a 4-1 third-period cushion two days after blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss at Minnesota.
“It’s something to build off for us,” Jenner said, looking ahead to next season. “I think, for our process, these are important games for us to find that way that we want to play and how we’re going to play and how we’re going to win games in this league and realize how hard it is, and what’s our recipe to make that happen.”
Buffalo rookie Jack Quinn had a goal and an assist. J.J. Peterka also scored and Tage Thompson got his team-leading 41st goal for the ninth-place Sabres, who are in playoff contention entering March in a bid to end an NHL-record 11-season playoff drought.
Buffalo (31-24-4) squandered an opportunity to gain ground in a tight playoff race. The day began with five points separating the seventh-place New York Islanders and 12th-place Washington Capitals.
Craig Anderson stopped 31 shots.
“Not a lot of lessons this time of year. You’ve got to win,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “We didn’t come out and play well enough in the first two periods to win a game. We move on and we try to win the next one.”
The Sabres were slow and sloppy through two periods, and resembled nothing of the team that had won three straight and was coming off a 7-4 win over Washington despite missing top-line forward Alex Tuch and Norris Trophy candidate defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Both missed their second game, with Tuch — on crutches and with a boot on his left foot — expected to miss another few weeks.
With the score tied at 1, Robinson sparked a three-goal surge by scoring with 6:19 left in the opening period. Jenner’s goal proved to be a back-breaker to put Columbus up 4-1 with 18 seconds left in the second. Jenner drove up left wing, sidestepped defenseman Owen Power and lifted a shot over Anderson.
The injury-depleted Blue Jackets, who are dressing seven rookies, are suddenly on a roll in improving to 5-2-2 in their past nine games.
“It doesn’t change our mindset,” coach Brad Larsen said. “At the end of the day, we’re here to play hockey and to win games. And there is a business side of it. We all understand that. Our team is aware of it and you’ve got to put your best foot forward. And I think these guys, we’ve been doing this for a while here now.”
Columbus traded injured forward Gustav Nyquist to the Minnesota Wild for a fifth-round draft pick. Nyquist missed his 13th game with a shoulder injury and is not expected to resume playing until after the regular season. Meantime, goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who was scheduled to be the backup, was held out for trade-related reasons.
Sabres D Riley Stillman has yet to join the team a day after being acquired in a trade with Vancouver.
Blue Jackets: Host the Seattle Kraken on Friday night.
Sabres: Play at Eastern Conference-leading Boston on Thursday night.