The Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres, two teams going in opposite directions, meet Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, for the first game of a home-and-home series on consecutive days.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
The Blue Jackets are 5-1-1 since coming off their five-day break nearly two weeks ago. It’s a stretch that’s seen the Blue Jackets rise to second in the Metropolitan Division, five points behind division-leading Washington with 17 games left in the regular season.
Columbus posted three shutouts in their last three home games while scoring 10 goals. Their last contest, a 2-0 home victory over the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, might have been the least impressive game since the break.
However, the Blue Jackets still got high marks from their coach with the way they grinded out the victory, scoring two goals in the final 10:21.
“That’s as close as we’ve come to a clunker since the break,” John Tortorella said. “But we found a way in the third period to generate enough energy and find a way to win.”
The Blue Jackets are in the midst of their most successful season in their 16-year existence. They need four more points to break the club record of 93 the 2013-14 team earned. That team earned just the franchise’s second playoff berth.
Center Sam Gagner said the various ways the team has won in recent weeks show that when they make the playoffs for the third time ever this season, the Blue Jackets will be a tough matchup for teams.
“That’s the good part about this team,” said Gagner, who got an assist on Oliver Bjorkstrand’s game-winning goal and reached the 40-point plateau for the seventh time in his career Tuesday. “We can grind out wins. We can play with skill, and we can have patience like we showed tonight.”
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky posted three consecutive shutouts, including back-to-back blankings of New Jersey earlier this week. If he starts Friday and completes a scoreless first period, he’ll break the team record for longest scoreless streak. Steve Mason went 199:28 between goals in the 2008-09 season.
The Sabres’ Marcus Foligno knows Columbus well as his older brother Nick is the Blue Jackets’ captain. The younger Foligno said in an interview after practice Thursday that it will be key for the Sabres to get to Bobrovsky early.
“It’s just got to be a workboot game from us, and we got to make sure everyone is ready to go,” he said on the team’s Twitter feed.
The Sabres, meanwhile, dropped out of legitimate playoff contention. They’re 1-5-2 in the last eight games, allowing at least three goals in seven of those contests. Buffalo finds itself in seventh place in the Atlantic Division.
With 66 points in 67 games, the Sabres are nine points behind the New York Islanders for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot despite the Islanders having played one fewer game.
“We have a lot to prove with the last 15 games, with who we are and how we’re going to play,” Dan Bylsma said. “Pride is a big factor.”
Sabres center Jack Eichel has been hot over the last five weeks. His 23 points since Feb. 1 leads the NHL. In Tuesday’s 6-3 home loss to Philadelphia, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft notched three points to extend his career-high points streak to 11 games.
In the game, the former Boston University standout earned his 100th career point, becoming the third youngest Sabre to reach that milestone. Only Pierre Turgeon and Phil Housley reached 100 points as teenagers, as Eichel turned 20 earlier this season.
Despite not scoring a goal until Dec. 1, left wing Evander Kane ranks among the top 25 goal scorers in the league. His 24 goals are tied for second-most in the league since the start of December.
The home-and-home series marks the first meetings of the season. They’ll conclude their three-game season series at Columbus on March 28. In recent matchups, the home team has not fared well, losing seven of the last nine contests.