It’s six wins in a row and counting for the NHL’s hottest team. And it’s not Anaheim, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis or any of your other usual suspects.
It’s the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that has never won a playoff game in its history but tied its franchise record for consecutive wins with Saturday’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Blue Jackets, who posted a 5-1 home win Friday over Washington and survived on the second leg of a back-to-back, also won six in a row in 2006. They are three points out of a playoff spot in both the Metropolitan Division and the wild-card race.
“It’s an accomplishment but we can’t be satisfied with it either,” said coach Todd Richards. “It’s something at the end of the season, something you look at years from now if it remains. Hopefully we can grow it and continue to build on it. Right now for me it’s just a stat.”
The Jackets started this year just 5-10 but they’re 13-6-1 in their last 20 games and 7-1 since Jan. 1. That may be more the norm; they finished last season on a 19-5-5 run and barely missed the playoffs in the Western Conference, losing the last spot on a tiebreaker to Minnesota
“Guys are starting to realize if we play like we know we can play that we can go on these sort of streaks,” said leading scorer Ryan Johansen, who beat Ryan Miller for the shootout winner. “I’m really proud of the ways we’re coming together and playing. It’s been a lot of fun since the new year started.”
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, has won seven straight starts and stoned the Sabres in the shootout after giving up Tyler Myers’ tying goal with 24.9 seconds left.
“It happens in the game. You never know,” Bobrovsky said. “If you allow the goal, it’s over and passed. You have to focus on what’s going on now.”
“They were going to have a tough time getting one by him tonight,” Richards said of the shootout. “He looked really confident in the net.”
Former Sabres winger Corey Tropp played 9½ minutes for the Blue Jackets in his first game here since the Sabres waived him in late November. He has two goals, three assists and is plus-7 in 22 games with Columbus.
Tropp, was waived the day before Patrick Kaleta suffered a season-ending knee injury while playing for Rochester. Kaleta, who was on the road back from a 10-game suspension, was likely going to take Tropp’s roster spot.
“Whenever teams are struggling, it always seems to be the bottom six guys getting bounced around,” Tropp said before the game. “That’s usually the easiest change you can make to a roster. It’s been great to come to Columbus.”
The Sabres were trying to get Tropp through waivers to Rochester and were surprised he got claimed.
“Rochester was their idea,” Tropp said. “Did I agree with it at the time? No. We were like 5-20 and I thought I could have gotten the minutes here to be honest with you. But it’s part of the business. I don’t hold any grudges.”
Matt Moulson’s apparent goal 24 seconds into the second period was wiped out on replay when it was ruled he directed the puck in with his right skate. The review showed the skate moved slightly in the direction of the puck in the Columbus crease.
“The league is screaming for goals and all of a sudden, I don’t know how he can kick it trying to stop at the same time,” said interim coach Ted Nolan. “It looked questionable for me.”
Sabres winger Marcus Foligno returned to the lineup after missing a game due to an undisclosed injury. He replaced Matt D’Agostini, who is now on the shelf with an upper-body injury suffered Wednesday in Toronto. Linus Omark remained a healthy scratch.
Neither John Scott nor Zenon Konopka played in the third period or overtime. Konopka, in particular, drew Nolan’s ire for the goaltender interference penalty he took at 11:03 of the second period. The Blue Jackets got the go-ahead goal 18 seconds later from Brandon Dubinsky.
The Sabres have given up three power-play goals on the four penalties Konopka has taken, and that includes two goalie interference calls in the last three games.
“You can’t go into the crease and try to stop. You have to stop way before that,” said a clearly disgusted Nolan. “It’s just a bad … I mean two times now? Do it once, OK. But twice, he can’t do that.”
The Sabres fell to 6-4 in shootouts after starting the season 4-0 in them. Columbus is 4-1. … In his first game back with the Quebec Remparts, Mikhail Grigorenko had the game-winning goal with 7:30 left Saturday and added two assists in a 5-3 win over Royun-Norenda. Grigorenko, who has been named an assistant captain, went 26-5 on faceoffs and was awarded the game’s first star.