James Wisniewski wasn't the only reason the Columbus Blue Jackets finally claimed their first victory, but it probably wasn't a complete coincidence that his new team didn't win during his eight-game suspension.
The defenseman now looks to help Columbus notch its first road win in more than seven months Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
Coach Scott Arniel couldn't overstate the significance of Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Detroit, which snapped the Blue Jackets' worst start in franchise history. They spent a week as the NHL's lone winless team.
"I don't think anyone in that dressing room has been through the three weeks of hell we just went through," Arniel said. "The psychological, the emotional, everything that came with it. It was a lot of baggage."
Acquired from Montreal and signed to a six-year, $33 million deal this summer, Wisniewski had to watch the entire season-opening skid from afar, having been suspended for a preseason hit to the head of Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck.
He returned to log more than 27 minutes of ice time -- the most of any skater -- in his Columbus debut, giving the Blue Jackets (1-7-1) a presence they lacked on the blue line throughout their losing streak.
"It's tough to say that one guy can win a hockey game, but having Wiz back there is huge," said goalie Steve Mason, who stopped 30 shots despite leaving briefly with an injury. "His confidence, not just in the way he plays but the way he carries himself, it kind of rubs off on guys."
That could help the Blue Jackets finally win on the road. Besides going 0-4-0 outside of Ohio this season, they lost their final five road games of 2010-11 -- part of a 2-10-4 stretch away from home.
In their most recent road game Saturday at Ottawa, Columbus led in the final minute of the third period before allowing two quick goals to lose 4-3 in regulation.
Buffalo (5-3-0) won 5-0 when hosting the Blue Jackets last season but is still looking for its first true home win this fall. The Sabres were officially the home team for their 4-1 victory over Anaheim in Helsinki, but they've dropped their first two at the First Niagara Center.
Thomas Vanek's seventh goal and Brad Boyes' first put them ahead 2-0 in the first 2:31 on Tuesday against Tampa Bay, but the Sabres squandered the lead by the end of the first period and lost 4-3 for their second defeat to the Lightning in four days.
"We all have to get better," goalie Ryan Miller said. "We can't get rattled, and we have to keep going."
Miller is 0-2-0 with a 4.07 goals-against average in Buffalo and 4-1-0 with a 1.20 GAA elsewhere. The Sabres are in the midst of a five-game homestand.
Mason, meanwhile, has never played in western New York. His two home starts against the Sabres produced vastly different results -- a 28-save shutout Feb. 26, 2010, and a 5-4 loss in the teams' most recent meeting April 9.
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