The big news pregame surrounded the goaltending - Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo were ruled out with lower-body injuries. As a result, the Blue Jackets started NHL veteran Jean-Francois Berube in net. Berube’s start was his first with the Blue Jackets and his first NHL start since April 2018. In addition, the team signed Jet Greaves to an entry-level contract, and Greaves manned the backup position for the Blue Jackets.
The Sabres, making their only appearance at Nationwide Arena, came in on something of a hot steak themselves with wins In two of their three previous games. Tage Thompson had a hat trick in the Sabres last outing, a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Here’s what happened.
The game opened slowly - the teams combined for just two shots on goal through the first four minutes of the game, but the Blue Jackets capitalized first. After a turnover at the blue line as the Sabres tried to exist their own zone, Sean Kuraly was denied on the short side, and after a scramble in front of the net, Dean Kukan was able to beat Craig Anderson for his second of the season.
Columbus goal (1-0): Kukan from Chinakhov and Domi, 4:47
Columbus earned the first power play just 90 seconds later, as Patrik Laine drew a tripping penalty behind the Buffalo net. The Sabres were able to kill the penalty, though. The Blue Jackets earned another power play with 8:16 to go as Alex Tuch hooked Justin Danforth. Through the first 12 minutes of the game, the Jackets had allowed one shot on Berube to 14 of their own.
The Sabres killed the penalty, but were unable to establish much on their own, particular offensively. Columbus was selling out to protect Berube and limit chances on their netminder and it showed on the box score. Buffalo was able to beat Berube to level the score, however, on just their second shot of the game. Mark Pysyk was able to capitalize on a fortuitous bounce as the puck bounced from Gavin Bayreuther right to Pysyk on the back door and he beat Berube cleanly.
Buffalo goal (1-1): Pysyk from Olofsson and Cozens, 15:05
The goal woke up the Buffalo offense, who began to sustain offensive zone pressure and were rewarded with their second of the season as Tage Thompson, after a bad turnover from Adam Boqvist, beat Berube with a clean wrist shot to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead.
Buffalo goal (1-2): Thompson from Tuch, 17:14
It took Columbus just seconds to respond, though, as Jakub Voracek hit the post on a shot and the rebound came right to Boone Jenner who put the puck into a gaping net and tied the game at two. After a brief review to confirm the puck crossed the line, the goal was confirmed. Buffalo’s lead lasted 11 seconds.
Columbus goal: Jenner from Voracek and Laine, 17:25
The period ended with the teams tied at 2, but Columbus ahead in the shot column 20-9. 20 shots were the most in a single period for the Blue Jackets this season.
Columbus opened the second period in much the same way as they finished the first - firing the puck on net. They were rewarded early, with Dean Kukan firing past Anderson for his second of the night as a seeing-eye wrister gave Columbus a 3-2 lead just 3:28 into the second.
Columbus goal (3-2): Kukan from Bayreuther and Gaunce, 3:28
Columbus looked to have made it 4-2 just seconds later, but the goal was challenged and brought back for offside - a shame, because Patrik Laine had made an incredible play to get the goal. With 11:44 to go, however, Zach Werenski scored a fourth that would certainly count - he collected a loose puck and rifled a wrister through Anderson that gave Columbus their first multi-goal lead of the game.
Columbus goal (4-2): Werenski from Bjorkstrand and Jenner, 8:16
The teams continued to trade chances through the end of the period, but it was Columbus who managed to find a late goal. Brendan Gaunce, seconds after a stop by Berube, gathered the puck on a breakaway after a breakout pass from Laine and fired it past Craig Anderson for one that gave Columbus a 5-2 lead.
Columbus goal (5-2): Gaunce from Laine and Kukan, 17:43
With 32 seconds to go in the period, Peyton Krebs and Vladislav Gavrikov were each handed minors for roughing as they got into a scrum behind the net. Lost in the chaos of the scrum, however, was that Kyle Okposo had managed to beat a sprawling Berube and close the deficit.
Buffalo goal (3-5): Okposo from Krebs and Mittlestadt, 19:28
After 40 minutes, Columbus led 5-3 on the scoreboard and 31-18 in shots.
Buffalo, feeling the momentum from their late second period goal, registered the first four shots on net of the third period. Columbus finally got its first shot of the period with 5 minutes gone as Jack Roslovic was denied by Anderson. After two barn burner periods, the teams seemed to slow in the third, playing more stout defensively.
Buffalo generated 10 shots on net in the first 10 minutes compared to just five for Columbus, but neither goaltender was seriously threatened as the game crossed into the back half of the period.
Buffalo had their most dangerous chance of the third as Alex Tuch tried to power a shot through Berube, but after losing the rebound momentarily, Berube was able to corral and cover the puck. The Blue Jackets defense played stout through much of the third, allowing little high danger oportunities.
With 1:47 to go, the Sabres pulled Anderson for the extra skater. Berube made a monster save on Casey Mittlestadt with 1:21 to go to keep Columbus in front by one. With 35.9 seconds to go, Gustav Nyquist iced the game with an empty net goal.
Columbus goal (6-3): Nyquist from Kuraly and Gavrikov, 19:24
With just a few seconds remaining in the game, the puck squirted free into the slot and Justin Danforth was able to bury it for the team’s seventh on the night.
Columbus goal (7-3): Danforth from Gaunce, 19:56
Buffalo Sabres 3 Columbus Blue Jackets 7
Dean Kukan had three goals in 128 NHL games prior to Sunday night’s game, and two on Sunday. Just like we all expected. With the assist on Gaunce’s goal, he was credited with his first career three point game. Stick taps to Kukan, who has persevered through injuries and time in the press box.
Boone Jenner notched another multi-point game, his ninth of the season. Jenner is having a very good season for the Blue Jackets, currently leading the team in scoring and the first player on the team to cross the 20 goal mark. Many thought the days of him scoring consistently were behind him, but he is significantly outperforming expectations.
Patrik Laine has multiple points in three straight homes, and has a point in nine straight games overall. The nine game point streak is tied for the longest active streak in the NHL with Elias Lindholm.
Credit to Jean-Francois Berube, who stepped into a tough situation and made the saves required for Columbus to get the win.
Congratulations again to Jet Greaves on signing his ELC. Big moment for the 20 year old.
The Columbus Blue Jackets return to the ice in Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs. Faceoff is set for 7:00 EDT.