“He gave us a little pep talk,” Rick Nash said. “We knew we had to get better, and that was one of our best third periods.” Dan Fritsche jammed in a rebound on the second try midway through the period to cap a comeback and give the Blue Jackets a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
The Blue Jackets, who had lost five of their previous seven games, came into the third period trailing 2-1. They improved to just 3-22 when down through two periods.
“During the second intermission, we regrouped,” Fritsche said. “We knew what we had to do – we had to go out there and take over the game.”
Manny Malhotra centred a pass to Rostislav Klesla, who was trailing the play, for a high shot that eluded Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller and tied the score at the 5:22 mark of the third period.
Columbus, completely outplayed in the middle period, then took the lead when Malhotra’s pass was deflected but ended up on the stick of Jason Chimera. Chimera’s shot was stopped by Miller, but Fritsche was in front to jam at it. Miller stopped the first with his stick but the second got by him for Fritsche’s 10th goal.
“There was a shot – I don’t even know where it came from,” Fritsche said. “I was waiting for a loose puck.
“It was just bouncing around and I was just fishing for it. It finally went in.”
Chris Drury had both Buffalo goals, with Daniel Briere, just back from being named MVP of the all-star game, adding two assists.
The Sabres, cheered by thousands of fans who made the trip, came in 24-1-2 when leading through two.
“You can’t sit back. We made a couple of mistakes and they took advantage of them,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “We had our opportunities to put them away but we didn’t.
“We spent the whole second period in their end. When you have nine or 10 opportunities to score, you need to put two or three away and we didn’t.”
Fredrik Norrena had 36 saves for the Blue Jackets.
Nash had the other Columbus goal, while Chimera and Malhotra each had two assists.
The Blue Jackets got on the board first when Sergei Fedorov slid a centring pass to Nash in the high slot, with Nash’s power-play wrist shot going off Teppo Numminen and past Miller for his 14th of the season.
The Sabres came back with a power-play goal of their own, Drury skating along the goal-line from the left side and then going high over Norrena’s shoulder.
Buffalo thoroughly dominated the second period, outshooting Columbus 15-4.
Drury made it 2-1 when he scored on a rebound off Briere’s hard shot for his 26th of the year 1:08 in on the power play.
The Sabres’ best chance to extend the lead came when Daniel Paille received a penalty shot with 18 seconds left in the second. Norrena lost his stick while trying to poke the puck away from Paille on a breakaway. Paille’s shot was deflected just wide by Norrena.
“It was a playoff atmosphere,” said Hitchcock, who is 14-12-3 since taking over for the fired Gerard Gallant. “This is the loudest I’ve heard it this season.”
Notes: The Blue Jackets traded RW Joe Motzko, C Mark Hartigan and a conditional seventh-round pick to the Anaheim Ducks for C Zenon Konopka, LW Curtis Glencross and a fourth-round pick . . . For Columbus, Nash played in his 250th NHL game, C Alexander Svitov his 150th and Tollefsen his 50th . . . East-leading Buffalo, which lost its second in a row, is just 5-6-1 in January.