The Columbus Blue Jackets started Saturday night with a big bang. They ended it with a big thud. After all the dust settled, the Buffalo Sabres scored five unanswered goals and skated away with a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jackets.
This game was a tale of three periods of completely different outcomes. If the first period was any indication, the Blue Jackets would skate off with a dominating win. They scored three times against a struggling Anders Nilsson. The Sabres seemed out of sorts. Fans loudly booed them off the ice after the first 20 minutes. Some in the press were even wondering if head coach Dan Bylsma would be fired after the game had this pace kept up.
This is why games are 60 minutes long.
Sabres Surprising Comeback
The Sabres stormed out to start the second period. Just 18 seconds in, Jake McCabe made it 3-1. Just over five minutes later, Matt Moulson made it 3-2. And just as you thought the Blue Jackets might squeak out of the period with a lead, Sam Reinhart ties the game with under three seconds left in the second.
So much for cruising to victory. This was a brand new hockey game. Still, if the Blue Jackets could win the third period, they’d leave Buffalo with two points.
The first 15 minutes went by with no damage either way. Then as was the theme of the night, a penalty ultimately decided the game.
The teams combined to take 62 minutes in penalties for the game. The last two of those minutes helped the Sabres go ahead for good. Boone Jenner gets called for hooking. With just 10 seconds left on the penalty, Evander Kane scores the go-ahead goal to make the score 4-3. The Sabres added an empty netter as time ran out.
The Sabres used the last 40 minutes to teach the Blue Jackets a valuable lesson.
Given the way the season has gone for the Sabres, most everyone in the building (the Blue Jackets included), thought the game was over after the first period. The boos were so loud that the roof of KeyBank Center could have come off. It was a dreadful opening 20 minutes for the home team. Their goaltender looked lost. Their players seemed disinterested. There were still 40 minutes left. But most everyone thought the outcome had already been decided.
The Sabres had to respond. Their season was on the line. Another ugly loss would not sit well with anyone. If they were going to come back in this game, they needed to show an urgency that has lacked most of the season.
The Blue Jackets knew the Sabres would make a push. They had to weather the impending storm. Just 18 seconds into the second, not only was the score 3-1, it was a sign that the Blue Jackets still had plenty of room for growth.
Giving up a goal within the first 20 seconds was the last thing the Blue Jackets wanted to do. In that spot when you know the Sabres will push, they have to match their opponent’s intensity.
Captain Nick Foligno acknowledged after the game that the 3-1 goal was on his line.
“We didn’t have the second period start that we wanted, my line especially, going out there and getting scored on 18 seconds in.”, Foligno said. “We didn’t play as hard as we needed to. They also got a timely one right at the end (of the second period) to make it 3-3. It was unfortunate because penalties just started piling up. I’ve never seen calls like that. That was interesting to say the least.”
Yes, penalties played a major role in this game. The second period alone had 54 minutes worth combined. Most of those happened after the game was tied. Let’s just say that Scott Hartnell and Zach Bogosian will likely not exchange Christmas cards anytime soon.
Hartnell was clearly not pleased with Marcus Foligno taking a run at Cam Atkinson earlier in the game. Foligno’s skate blade caught Atkinson in the shoulder when he was down on the ice. Atkinson needed 17 stitches as a result, but was very fortunate it wasn’t worse.
— Tom Reed (@treed1919) March 12, 2017
Bogosian came charging in and confronted Hartnell. They exchanged pleasantries. Then a big scrum ensued. When everything finally calmed down, Hartnell received 16 minutes of penalties while Bogosian got 14 minutes. Somehow Hartnell got an extra unsportsman-like conduct penalty out of it. Hartnell was not eligible to return until there were four minutes left in the third. Add that to losing Ryan Murray earlier in the game and you got a less than ideal situation for the Blue Jackets.
Despite all that, the Blue Jackets still had a chance to win late, until the Jenner penalty. The team was uncharacteristically undisciplined at different points. It ultimately decided the game.
The lesson here is that when games are close late, you have to stay disciplined. The Blue Jackets didn’t and it cost them two points. If this happens in the playoffs, it could cost them a game or even a series.
Saturday night served as a great reminder that the Blue Jackets can’t take any shifts off, even if they have a big lead. They have to stay aggressive without letting untimely penalties get in the way. For a young team aspiring to become a great team, this lesson is well-timed. They’ll learn from this and become a better team.
The good news for the Blue Jackets is that tomorrow is another game and a chance to put Saturday behind them. They remain just three points back of the Washington Capitals for first in the Metropolitan. They’ll have plenty of motivation trying to catch the Capitals.
Saturday night served as a lesson for the young Blue Jackets. At this point in their development, it’s not the worst thing in the world for them to experience. Now we’ll see how quickly they apply this lesson to their game moving forward.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.