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Connor Clifton breaks tie with his 1st goal in nearly a year, Sabres beat Blue Jackets 2-1

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Connor Clifton broke a third-period tie with his first goal in nearly a year, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 25 stops and the Buffalo Sabres beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Friday night.

Clifton’s shot from the blue line bounced into the net off Columbus goalie Daniil Tarasov's shoulder 3:05 into the third period. The Buffalo defenseman hadn't scored in 71 games, since March 2, 2023, when he played for Boston.

“It’s always nice to contribute offensively," Clifton said. “I’ve got some chances, missed some chances and they just haven’t been going in. It’s just part of it. You don’t try to change anything. I don’t focus on it too much.”

Zemgus Girgensons also scored for the Sabres, who have won two straight and four of their last six. They started the day in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.

“The guys were very intense,” Buffalo coach Don Granato said. “The pace was high. The compete was high. When we have those two things, things usually work out for the better.”

Dmitri Voronkov scored and Tarasov made 35 stops as the Blue Jackets again failed to string two wins together, a feat they haven't accomplished since November 22 and 24.

Voronkov got his 15th goal of the season on a power play when linemate Kirill Marchenko set him up with tap pass across the goal mouth with 7:55 left in the first period.

Later in the first, Girgensons' shot from the left circle was deflected in by Tarasov, who got a glove on it despite an effective screen by the Sabres' Kyle Okposo. That was all the scoring until Clifton's long-distance tally in the third.

“When you have three stars of the game and two of them are goaltenders, that tells you something,” Granato said. “Both teams generated some chances. We generated a lot more and probably should have had a couple more (goals). That’s the way it goes. As long as you have enough to win. I’m pretty happy with that.”

Tarasov lamented playing a solid game but not emerging with the win. The Blue Jackets killed four Buffalo power plays.

“It’s frustrating,” the 24-year-old netminder said. “It doesn’t matter how you play. The main thing is the result, and it was not that good tonight.”

NOTES: Sabres D Erik Johnson sat out with an illness. ... The Blue Jackets Johnny Gaudreau made it back from Anaheim to be there for the birth of his second child, Johnny Edward Gaudreau, on Thursday night. ... F Alex Nylander, acquired from Pittsburgh for F Emil Bemstrom on Thursday, was a scratch for Columbus. ... Columbus has sold out nine of its last 11 home games.

UP NEXT

Sabres: Host Carolina on Sunday night.

Blue Jackets: Host New York Rangers on Sunday night.

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Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press