COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nick Foligno, as captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, says that every game matters. Soon, when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, he won't have to remind his teammates of that.
But right now, with six games left in the regular season, Foligno wants his team to think big even when an opponent with little to no playoff hope comes to town. He didn't see enough urgency Tuesday night even though the Blue Jackets defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 behind first-period goals by Kyle Quincey and Cam Atkinson.
With the win, Columbus took over sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division.
"The big games, we seem to get up for them," Foligno said. "But we've got to find a way to realize that every game is a big game."
As the Blue Jackets (49-19-7, 105 points) look toward the playoffs for the first time since 2014, they have plenty to play for. On Sunday, they face division-leading Washington (108 points), the team they are chasing for the division title, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the Presidents' Trophy. Next Tuesday, the Blue Jackets travel to third-place Pittsburgh (103 points).
"We know there's better, we know there's more," Foligno said.
Buffalo (32-33-12) was trying to play spoiler for the third straight game, coming off wins over playoff hopefuls Toronto and Florida. The Sabres kept it close until Brandon Saad's empty-netter at 18:55 of the third period.
The Sabres had plenty of scoring opportunities, especially in the second period, but managed only one goal in the middle of that period when Evan Rodrigues fired one past Sergei Bobrovsky on a power play from the left circle for his fourth goal. That ended Bobrovsky's scoreless streak at 109 minutes, 14 seconds. But the league leader in goals-against average stopped 41 shots.
"We did put quite a bit of pressure on him," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "But a good portion of it there was not enough traffic on Bobrovsky to get one by him."
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is happy to see his team find a way to win despite continuing its power-play slump by going 0-for-3 and now 0-for-12 in their past seven games. The offense is his biggest concern. Buffalo's Anders Nilsson had to stop only 26 shots.
"It's really evident when our power play doesn't work our next few shifts -- it's a struggle," Tortorella said. "Our top guys are struggling to make a play. I believe it will come back."
The offense took advantage of two opportunities in the final minutes of the first period to take a 2-0 lead. Quincey scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket and fifth of the season at 14:47. The Sabres cleared the puck away from the net but it went right to Quincey just above the left circle and he sent right back into the net.
Quincey came to the Blue Jackets from New Jersey on March 1 in a trade for Dalton Prout.
Three minutes later, Seth Jones rushed the puck through traffic up the middle and passed to a wide-open Atkinson on the right wing for a quick shot and 2-0 lead on Atkinson's team-high 34th goal.
"You're not going to beat yourself up because you're not finding your best game," Foligno said. "But you still find a way to win and that's something this group's done really well."
Buffalo played without forward Sam Reinhart because of a violation of team rules. Bylsma did reveal the infraction.
-- Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky is the team's nominee for the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy. A player for each team is nominated. The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Bobrovsky, 28, has set a club record and career high for wins this season (41) after battling injuries for the past three seasons.
-- Tuesday was the start of the Jackets' final eight games, including two stretches of three games in four days. They also play the three of the top four teams in the league (Washington, Pittsburgh, Chicago).
-- Sabres RW Kyle Okposo was a scratch due to illness, according to Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma. LW Nicolas Deslauriers, who sat the past five games as a healthy scratch, returned to the lineup.
-- The Sabres' 25.3 percent scoring rate on the power play ranks as the third-best conversion rate in franchise history.