COLUMBUS, Ohio – Since winning 10 consecutive games, the Buffalo Sabres have frustrated themselves and their fans.
At times, their tantalizing skill makes them look like a playoff team. At others, they appear too mistake-prone and young to break a seven-year postseason drought.
Those remarkable strengths and sometimes overwhelming weaknesses were again on display Tuesday night in Nationwide Arena. This time, the Sabres endured, beginning the season's second half with a 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Buffalo, now 25-18-6, matched its win total from last season and has 33 regular-season games remaining. Also, it closed within two points of the second wild-card playoff spot and avoided another losing streak.
Conor Sheary scored 2:12 into the third period – only his second goal in 29 games – to break a 4-4 tie. That occurred after Columbus (28-18-3) scored two goals in the final 3:08 of the second period to erase the Sabres' two-goal lead.
Carter Hutton made 32 saves to earn only his third win in 13 starts. Evan Rodrigues, Sam Reinhart, Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner also scored for the Sabres.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson had goals for Columbus, which has lost three consecutive games.
Opening salvo: The Sabres broke the scoreless tie 2:14 into the first period when Sheary carried the puck through the right-wing circle and made a backhanded pass to Casey Mittelstadt, whose shot was stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky. Rodrigues was there to shoot the rebound into the open net for his fourth consecutive game with a goal. He had only one goal in 23 games prior to that.
1:03: The lead lasted only 1:03. With an extra attacker on the ice because of a delayed Sabres penalty, Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray ripped a shot toward the net and it was deflected by Dubois to tie the score 1-1. It was Dubois' 18th goal of the season.
Reinhart answers: The Sabres successfully cycled the puck in the offensive zone until Rasmus Ristolainen carried it through the right-wing circle and passed to the slot, where Reinhart unleashed a shot that beat Bobrovsky to make it 2-1 at 7:59 into the first period.
Reinhart has 12 goals and a career-high 33 assists. Entering Tuesday, the Sabres were 18-8-4 this season when Reinhart had at least one point.
Young guns: Thompson gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead at 9:39 into the first period when he collected a drop pass from Rasmus Dahlin, skated toward the slot and beat Bobrovsky with a shot that went off the crossbar and in. It was Thompson's seventh goal of the season.
Power play: The Blue Jackets scored 21 seconds into the second period when Foligno hammered home his own rebound to make it 3-2. Columbus entered the game with the NHL's 27th-best power play.
21 seconds: The Sabres answered 21 seconds later when Skinner scored on a breakaway, his 31st goal of the season, to make it 4-2. Dahlin's two assists give him eight points over his last seven games.
Two minutes, 35 seconds: The Blue Jackets scored two goals in a span of two minutes and 35 seconds to tie the score, 4-4. First, Dubinsky poked a puck past Hutton with Marco Scandella out of position, and Atkinson tied the score with a shot from the slot when the Sabres were unable to clear the puck from the defensive zone.
Lineups: Lawrence Pilut, Nathan Beaulieu and Remi Elie were healthy scratches for the Sabres. With Hutton in goal, Linus Ullmark will likely start Wednesday night in Dallas. Additionally, the Blue Jackets were without winger Boone Jenner, who has nine goals among 21 points in 48 games this season.
Next: The Sabres traveled to Dallas, where they will play the Stars in American Airlines Center Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. EST.