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Game #79 Preview: Surging Blue Jackets Must Find a Way

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The Columbus Blue Jackets enter play tonight with a four-game winning streak, and a prime opportunity to keep pace in the playoff race.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday, March 31, 2019 - 6:00 EST
KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York
TV: Fox Sports Ohio, Radio: 97.1 FM
Opponent’s Blog: Die By The Blade

Columbus Blue Jackets (44-30-4, 92 points, 5th Metro, 8th East)

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Buffalo Sabres (31-37-10, 72 points, 6th Atlantic, 13th East)

There are four games left in the Columbus Blue Jackets regular season, and the hope is there will be more after the regular season finale April 6. As it currently sits, that looks to be the case.

Playoff hopes are on the rise in Central Ohio after the Blue Jackets recent surge of four-straight wins that has propelled the club from outside of the Eastern Conference’s top eight to now battling for at least the first wild card. Columbus defeated the Predators 5-2 last night in Nashville, while the Hurricanes and Canadiens both won their games. The Jackets remain one point back of Carolina for the first wild card and are now three points back of the third place Penguins in the division.

Player to Watch

Oliver Bjorkstrand, who has come into his own in the second half of the season, has 17 goals in his last 43 games. He is third on the team in goals (15) since Jan. 1 behind Cam Atkinson (17), and tied with Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin (15). Bjorkstrand enters action with six points, all goals, in five of his last six games, including a two-goal game Thursday against the Canadiens and one last night against the Predators. His 20 goals this season is a career-high, and he is nine points off the career-high 40 he set last season.

Jackets Notes

After being plowed into the head by the left forearm of Andrew Shaw during Thursday’s game, Adam McQuaid, who left and did not return vs Montreal, did not make the trip for Saturday’s game against Nashville. ... Shaw, who only got a two-minute minor for interference, is not subject to a suspension. ... Adam Clendening was recalled from Cleveland prior to Saturday’s game against Nashville but did not play. ... Scott Harrington drew into the lineup in McQuaid’s spot. ... After an offensive funk for a majority of the month, the Jackets have outscored opponents 20-4 over the last four games, including two shutouts over the current win streak. ... Since Feb. 1, Sergei Bobrovsky is 16-7-0, which is tied for the second-most wins, a .929 SV% (3rd), 1.99 GAA (2nd), and six shutouts (1st). ... Boone Jenner’s next point will be his 200th career. ... David Savard has scored in consecutive games for the second time in his career. ... Oliver Bjorkstrand has goals in four-straight. ... Artemi Panarin has rebound his offensive edge, with seven points (two goals, five assists) over his last four games. ... Columbus has scored 242 goals this season, and is just five away from tying the franchise high mark of 247 set in 2016-17. ... In 36 of 78 games this season, Columbus has scored at least four goals (46.2%). ... Columbus is 5-6-3 on the second night of a back-to-back. ... A victory tonight would match the Blue Jackets’ season-long win streak at five.

The Other Bench

The Sabres started the season with newfound hype following the selection of Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. The 18-year-old defenseman has put together a solid first season with eight goals (second among defenseman), 33 assists (second among all rookies), and 41 points (fourth among all rookies, most among defenseman), the latter being the third-most for rookies. His eight goals is second among rookie defenseman.

Jeff Skinner, acquired from the Hurricanes during training camp, is the teams’ leading scorer with 37 goals, however he has only one goal in his last 21 games, and none over his last seven. Jack Eichel is second on the team with 27 tallies and is first among the team in assists (50) and points (77).

Among Buffalo’s problems have been the propensity for giving up goals, with the team tied-for-26th in the league with 3.31 GA/GP. The net has been shared between Carter Hutton (17-24-5, .908 SV%, 3.02 GAA) and Linus Ullmark (14-13-5, .904, 3.15). Hutton took the 5-1 loss last night against the Islanders and has dropped five of his last six decisions. Ullmark last started on Thursday, his team losing 5-4 in overtime to the Red Wings. Ullmark has been searching for his first win since Mar. 1, a span of six starts.

Coming into tonight with a six-game losing streak, Buffalo is 1-8-1 in their last 10 games and just 2-11-1 for the month of March. Their last win came Mar. 17, a 4-3 overtime win at home against the Blues.

Buffalo’s injuries include Zach Bogosian (lower-body), Matt Hunwick (upper-body), Jake McCabe (upper-body), Rasmus Ristolainen (illness), Evan Rodrigues (upper-body), Marco Scandella (undisclosed), Vladimir Sobotka (upper-body).

Season Series

10/27/2018 BUF 4 @ CBJ 5 OT
01/29/2019 BUF 5 @ CBJ 4
03/31/2019 CBJ @ BUF

Stats Preview

Buffalo Columbus
2.65 (26) GPG 3.10 (t-11)
3.31 (t-25) GAPG 2.83 (11)
18.5% (18) PP% 15.0% (28)
80.5% (17) PK% 84.8% (t-2)
49.61% (14) EV Corsi % 50.13% (12)
98.8 (t-26) EV PDO 100.4 (9)
Jeff Skinner, 37 G Leader Cam Atkinson, 41
Jack Eichel, 50 A Leader Artemi Panarin, 56
Jack Eichel, 77 P Leader Artemi Panarin, 83
Zach Bogosian, 52 PIM Leader Pierre-Luc Dubois 64
20-13-5 Home / Road 22-14-2
1-8-1 Last 10 6-3-1

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets

Artemi Panarin Matt Duchene Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel Pierre-Luc Dubois Josh Anderson
Boone Jenner Alexander Wennberg

Oliver Bjorkstrand

Brandon Dubinsky Riley Nash Nick Foligno
Zach Werenski Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara David Savard
Dean Kukan Scott Harrington
Sergei Bobrovsky
Joonas Korpisalo / Keith Kinkaid

Buffalo Sabres

Victor Olofsson Jack
Eichel
Sam Reinhart
Jeff
Skinner
Casey
Mittelstadt
Jason Pominville
Conor Sheary Vladimir Sobotka Alex Nylander
Zemgus Girgensons Johan Larsson

Kyle Okposo

Lawrence Pilut Brandon Montour
Rasmus Dahlin William Borgen
Marco Scandella Casey Nelson
Linus Ullmark
Carter Hutton