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 lead two days after blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime loss at Minnesota.
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.
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.
After Johnson and Thompson traded goals in the opening four minutes, Robinson sparked a three-goal Columbus surge by scoring with 6:19 left in the opening period.
Sean Kuraly capitalized on Henri Jokiharju’s turnover behind the Sabres net by having his centering pass deflect off the stick of Buffalo defenseman Owen Power. The puck dribbled directly to Robinson in the slot, from where he snapped it inside the right post.
Robinson scored again 8:07 into the second period, and Jenner’s goal proved to be a back-breaker to put Columbus up 4-1 with 18 seconds left in the frame. Jenner drove up the left wing, sidestepped Power and lifted a shot over Anderson.
Merzlikins made several acrobatic saves in stopping 12 of 14 shots he faced in the final period, with his best stop getting his glove out to foil Thompson closing in on a breakaway with 11 minutes left.
Shortly before the game, the Blue Jackets 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.
In the meantime, goalie Joonas Korpisalo moved firmly onto the trade block after he was held out for trade-related reasons. Korpisalo was scheduled to be the backup in a role filled by the team calling up Jet Greaves from the minors.
Sitting out for an eighth straight game was Columbus D Valdislav Gavrikov, who has long been the subject of trade speculation.
Sabres D Riley Stillman has yet to join the team a day after being acquired in a trade with Vancouver.