With a postseason spot safely tucked away, the Buffalo Sabres can try to finish the regular season with their first road win over the Columbus Blue Jackets - and a possible playoff rematch against a division rival.
Buffalo goes for its eighth victory in 10 games Saturday night when it visits Nationwide Arena to face off against the Blue Jackets, who are ending another season without a trip to the playoffs.
After winning the Northeast Division and the East’s third seed last season, Buffalo needed a second-half surge to lock down a return trip to the postseason. The Sabres became the seventh team in the conference to clinch after a 4-3 overtime win against slumping Philadelphia on Friday.
“The atmosphere was tremendous,” longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “I told the players it was going to be like a playoff game. … I told them to just have fun. Go out and play.”
Thomas Vanek(notes) notched the game-winner after posting two assists. Nathan Gerbe(notes) also scored twice and Ryan Miller(notes) stopped all eight shots he faced after starting the third period in relief of Jhonas Enroth(notes). It was Miller’s first appearance after missing four games with an injured collarbone.
The Sabres (42-29-10) are 15-4-4 since Pennsylvania billionaire Terry Pegula completed the purchase of the franchise in February.
Buffalo can still finish sixth in the East with a regulation win over Columbus and any loss by Montreal in Toronto. If the Sabres move up, they would most likely open the postseason next week against current Northeast champion Boston, which ousted them in a six-game quarterfinal matchup last spring.
Vanek has four goals and two assists in his last two games, and leads the Sabres with 32 goals and 41 assists. However, he hasn’t recorded a point in two career games at Columbus.
The Sabres cruised to a 5-0 win over the Blue Jackets in a chippy contest Dec. 3 in Buffalo. The teams combined for 112 penalty minutes, mostly in the third period after the game was long decided.
Columbus (34-34-13) will close its first season under head coach Scott Arniel with more wins and points than in 2009-10, when Ken Hitchcock and Claude Noel were behind the bench. However, the Blue Jackets have failed to reach the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons, and head into their finale looking to avoid a sixth straight defeat.
“We talked about trying to stop the bleeding in this rink and against this team,” Arniel said. “We did lots of good things but certainly not enough.”
Since last winning in regulation at home Feb. 25, Columbus has gone 1-5-3 at Nationwide with the only victory coming by shootout. The Blue Jackets have scored two goals or fewer six times in that span.