COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Buffalo Sabres fans behind the visiting bench at Nationwide Arena stood and cheered when their team fell behind in the third period and again when it lost.
They might have been just supporting their favorite team through the hard times. More likely, they were celebrating the Sabres locking up the best chance at getting either the prized Connor McDavid or Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel.
Cam Atkinson scored on a rebound midway through the third period and Sergei Bobrovsky made 23 saves to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 4-2 victory over Buffalo, assuring the Sabres of the worst record in the NHL and the best odds of drafting No. 1.
''It's no position we would ever want to be in,'' said Buffalo goalie Anders Lindback, who had 36 saves as the Sabres fell to 23-50-8 on the season.
Brian Gionta, who had a goal assisted on Mikhail Grigorenko's tally in the defeat, wasn't rejoicing in another defeat.
''It's frustrating, no doubt about it,'' he said. ''Where we sit is not where we want to be. There's a lot of corrections that need to be made. But you can't dwell on it.''
Coach Ted Nolan said he was pleased with the effort - by most of the Sabres.
''I'm certainly proud of these guys. They work and they battle and they don't give up,'' Nolan said. ''Unfortunately, we have a couple that are not doing it and those ones are costing us.''
There were a lot of smiles in the other dressing room.
The Blue Jackets, who also got goals from Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert and an empty-netter from Boone Jenner, tied franchise records with their sixth consecutive home win and 12th game in a row earning at least a point (11-0-1). Todd Richards also became the Blue Jackets' leader in coaching victories with 126, one more than Ken Hitchcock.
''It's been a tough year for us, and I'm sure it's been tough for them watching,'' Atkinson said about Columbus' fans, who saw the Blue Jackets' season slip away because of a long list of injuries to key players. ''We're a healthy group right now and we're showing we're a pretty good team.''
With the score tied at 2, the Blue Jackets got the big goal.
Shortly after they killed off a third consecutive Sabres power play, Lindback got most of Dalton Prout's hard shot from the right point. But the rebound came out to the right circle where Atkinson rocketed it into the net.
It was Atkinson's 21st goal of the season - and seventh game-winning goal.
The teams traded goals up to that point.
Foligno extended his career high with his 31st goal just 14 seconds in - the fastest goal to start a game all season for the Blue Jackets.
He said he was proud that the club didn't fold after being all but eliminated from the playoffs two months ago.
''It's a credit to the guys in this group,'' he said. ''It shows a lot of character and it bodes well going into next season.''
The Sabres responded at the 2:25 mark with Grigorenko collecting his third. Columbus retook the lead at the 9:35 mark with Calvert converting with a hard slap shot from the left circle off a cross-ice pass from David Savard.
Gionta tied it with a minute left in the second before Atkinson's goal put the Blue Jackets ahead and Jenner's empty-netter clinched it.
Richards said being the club's leader in coaching wins was lost in preparation for the season-ending game at the New York Islanders on Saturday night.
''It doesn't mean anything,'' he said of passing Hitchcock. He preferred to talk about his team's late turnaround.
''There's a good feel right now around the team, the whole organization,'' he said.
Notes: Buffalo recalled D Chad Ruhwedel from AHL Rochester on Friday. ... The Blue Jackets now have a franchise-record 505 man-games lost to injury. They totaled 292 a year ago. ... The Sabres had won their last two games in Columbus. ... The Blue Jackets last won six home games in a row from Dec. 26, 2007 to Jan. 15, 2008. They put together a 12-game points streak (8-0-4) two years ago. ... Richards is 126-105-21 with the Blue Jackets. Hitchcock, now the coach of the St. Louis Blues, was 125-123-36. ... Jack Johnson and Savard each had two assists for Columbus. Calvert also assisted on Jenner's tally.
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