The Devils clinched their fifth Atlantic Division title in seven years with Friday’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers. New Jersey has lost just once in its last 10 games (6-0-3-1), and appears primed to make a serious run at its third Stanley Cup title since 1995.
Along with the division crown, the Devils also locked up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey will face the seventh-seeded Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.
“Winning our division, that’s what we had at stake,” Devils center Joe Nieuwendyk said. “We’ve got a good focus now.”
“There was a lot at stake,” said Brodeur, who is the first goalie to post eight straight 30-win seasons and four 40-win campaigns. “We definitely responded to the challenge.”
The Sabres, who will miss the playoffs for the second straight season, are concluding a tumultuous campaign that began when the NHL took over control of the franchise last June from former owner John Rigas.
Though the league was operating the organization, Buffalo was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January.
Local businessman Mark Hamister first bid on the troubled franchise, but was forced to suspend his offer in February when he failed to receive government support for an assistance package.
However, the Sabres’ financial future seems to be more secure after Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano offered to buy the club.
Golisano’s bid must first be approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court and then approved by the NHL Board of Governors.
The Sabres lost for just the second time in their last seven games with Saturday’s 8-5 setback to the Bruins.
“I don’t think we’ve been outclassed in any game all year,” goaltender Martin Biron said. “We were outclassed in the first period Saturday.”
STANDINGS: Devils - 107 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Sabres - 71 points, 5th place, 42 PB, Northeast Division.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through April 4): Devils - Power play: 12.1 percent (36 for 298), 29th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.7 percent (229 for 261), 1st. Sabres - Power play: 14.6 percent (51 for 350), 19th. Penalty killing: 85.6 percent (303 for 354), 5th.
SEASON SERIES: Devils, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 4; Devils, 4-1. At New Jersey, Nieuwendyk scored twice and Elias had a goal and an assist to lead the Devils over the Sabres. Jamie Langenbrunner had two assists, while Schwab made 19 saves for New Jersey. Chris Brown scored Buffalo’s lone goal.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devils - 21-9-6-4 on the road; Sabres - 18-16-4-2 at home.