The New Jersey Devils appear headed toward their second straight Atlantic Division title. First place in the Eastern Conference isn’t out of the question either.
New Jersey looks to move a step closer to the conference-leading Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night when the teams meet at HSBC Arena.
With an eight-point lead over Pittsburgh and 14 regular-season games left, the Devils (41-19-8) are on track for their third division title in four years. A victory in this game would pull them within one point of the Sabres (44-18-5), with the teams scheduled to wrap up their season series March 28 in Buffalo.
New Jersey made sure not to enter this key matchup on a losing streak, ending a three-game skid with a 4-3 shootout win at Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“We always get up for these games; they’re big games, four-point games,” said Devils rookie Travis Zajac, who had a third-period goal. “If we want to stay ahead of them in the standings we’ve got to keep winning. We always find a way. It was a good team win.”
Patrik Elias scored the deciding goal in the shootout after Martin Brodeur denied league scoring leader Sidney Crosby. Brodeur finished with 21 saves to reach the 40-win mark for the sixth time in his career.
“Every time you win 40 games or get to these certain plateaus, they’re pretty special,” Brodeur said. “There’s not many guys that are able to say that.”
New Jersey won despite being short-handed. Right wing Brian Gionta sat out with a nagging groin problem, defenseman Colin White suffered a hand injury during warmups and right wing Cam Janssen served the final game of a three-game suspension.
“We realized how big a game it was for both teams,” New Jersey coach Claude Julien said. “Under the circumstances, I think the guys came in and did a good job.”
The Devils likely will be without defenseman Brad Lukowich for this game after he was elbowed in the head by Pittsburgh’s Colby Armstrong late in regulation and remained on the ice for several minutes. He was taken to an area hospital for observation.
Buffalo needed a late third-period goal from rookie Michael Ryan to avoid being shut out for the first time this season Friday in a 5-1 loss to visiting Minnesota. It was the second straight defeat for the Sabres, who will be hosting games on consecutive days for the first time since Dec. 18-19, 1998.
Buffalo, the league’s top-scoring team, has scored six goals in three games since an 8-5 victory over Montreal on March 2. Friday’s contest marked just the fifth time this season that the Sabres were held to one goal.
“We didn’t have a lot of high-quality opportunities, but we have some really good ones in the second period that we missed,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said on the teams’ official Web site.
Ryan Miller was replaced by recently acquired Ty Conklin in the third period after allowing four goals on 22 shots. Miller—1-1-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average versus the Devils this season—is expected to make his sixth consecutive start Saturday.
These teams have split a pair of 3-2 decisions this season, but this is the first meeting in Buffalo. The Sabres are 1-3-0 with three ties in their last seven home matchups with the Devils.