BUFFALO – After missing six weeks of action, Sabres winger Victor Olofsson needed some time to adjust.
For the first two periods of Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Swedish rookie generated little offense.
“I got a little rust in my game there,” Olofsson said after scoring two goals, including the winner 2:44 into overtime.
By the end of Thursday’s thrilling come-from-behind victory, Olofsson kept showcasing the talents – his quick release and shot rank among the NHL’s elite – that make him a top Calder Trophy candidate.
Olofsson, who missed 15 games after suffering a lower-body injury Jan. 2, and captain Jack Eichel formed a dynamic duo again. Olofsson converted two of Eichel’s slick feeds – a power-play goal in the right circle and the winner at the edge of the slot – to help the Sabres win their second straight game.
“He was a little bit off here and there,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said of Olofsson early. “But once he found his legs – and he found his hands – it was just outstanding to have him back. We know why he’s the rookie of the year in the National Hockey League for us, no questions asked. He showed it again tonight. We missed him dearly.”
Eichel said: “He’s only going to keep getting better and getting back in the groove of things. It’s exciting to see.’
Olofsson also nearly won the game in the waning seconds of regulation, narrowly missing a prime opportunity in close before the crowd of 16,923 inside KeyBank Center.
“It’s big for my confidence to get two goals, I didn’t feel great the first couple periods,” said Olofsson, who has scored 18 times in 43 games. “So I needed some time to find my game. But right now, it feels great.”
Sabres center Evan Rodrigues said: “His shot is so dynamic, all it takes is one, two scoring chances and he changes the game. He’s lethal on that side of the power play. It’s almost like he doesn’t get a shot in the first two periods and then it’s one chance and it’s in. That’s the type of game-changer he is.”
Perhaps a game in which the Sabres erased a 2-0 second-period deficit could buoy them. For the second time this month the Sabres defeated the Blue Jackets, who possess perhaps the league’s stingiest defense.
After former Sabres winger Nathan Gerbe and center Boone Jenner put the Blue Jackets up 2-0 early in the second period, Buffalo beat goalie Matiss Kivlenieks four times in the final 23 minutes.
Eichel’s goal, his team-leading 32nd, ignited the Sabres 18:47 into the second period.
“We kind of got our momentum back in the game,” Olofsson said. “That was kind of the turning point in the whole game.”
Eichel said: “We needed a little momentum going into the third period there. I thought we had been getting chances but just not capitalizing. It was good to get that one. I thought it kind of got the crowd going a little bit, got the bench up, and I thought it drove some confidence into the room.”
Olofsson’s power-play goal tied it 2:10 into the third period. Then Rodrigues put the Sabres up 3-2 at 15:34.
After Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara pinched in and tied it with the extra attacker on at 18:47, the Sabres did not flinch.
“We felt throughout the game we were the stronger team, better team,” Rodrigues said. “We didn’t get down when they scored. It was almost like as soon as they scored we had a sense of optimism on the bench we were going to win it or win it in OT.
“So it was just that never-give-up-attitude and that confidence and almost a little bit of swagger to go out to try to win it before overtime.”
Struggling Sabres winger Jeff Skinner nearly won it earlier in overtime, missing a breakaway.
Still, Skinner enjoyed a strong game, recording his first point in 11 games by assisting on Rodrigues’ goal. Skinner, however, still has a 20-game goal drought.
“He was really moving his feed and competing hard,” Krueger said. “We’ve been speaking to him a lot about, forget about the scoring, forget about the offense, just get battling and get moving. …
“Lots of positives for Jeff to build on here. His goals will be a bonus when they start coming.”
Sabres goalie Carter Hutton made 28 saves, earning his straight win.