The New Jersey Devils made a valiant run to enter the playoff conversation, but a recent slide has them on the brink of elimination.
The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, hope to continue their push toward a postseason spot.
The teams meet Saturday night in Buffalo, where the Devils have not lost in regulation in nearly four years.
The Sabres (37-28-9) remained in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of ninth-place Carolina, with a 4-2 victory Friday against Florida. Buffalo, which is in the midst of its 18th of an NHL-high 22 sets of games on back-to-back nights, are two points behind the seventh-place New York Rangers.
Drew Stafford(notes) had two goals, including one just 13 seconds following Jordan Leopold’s(notes) third-period tally, and added an assist as the Sabres improved to 3-0-1 in their last four games. They’ve outscored their opponents 17-8 during that stretch.
Stafford had his first multi-point game since netting a hat trick Feb. 13 against the New York Islanders. He had only three goals in 17 games since before Friday’s outburst.
“Once you get that one goal, the crowd gets into it and the momentum shifts,” said Jason Pominville(notes), who had a goal and an assist against the Panthers. “And then we got another one off the bat, and the building kind of exploded. It’s a fun building to play in when it gets like that.”
New Jersey seems to feel the same way during its recent trips to Buffalo.
The Devils are 5-0-2 in their last seven road games against the Sabres, and haven’t lost in regulation at HSBC Arena since a 4-3 defeat March 28, 2007.
However, New Jersey (34-35-5) fell to 1-3-1 in its last five games after a 1-0 shootout loss Friday against Pittsburgh. The Devils, who got off to a dismal start this season, went 23-3-2 from Jan. 9-March 15 to make a late postseason push.
Now, New Jersey appears destined to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season. The Devils are 10 points behind the Sabres with eight games remaining.
Martin Brodeur(notes) made 26 saves to record his sixth shutout of the season and 116th of his storied career, but once again the Devils failed to provide enough offense. New Jersey has been shut out twice and scored two combined goals in their last four defeats.
The Devils also have had trouble scoring against the Sabres this season, losing two of three matchups. New Jersey’s lone victory came in a 1-0 overtime win Oct. 13 on a goal from Kovalchuk less than a minute into the extra session.
Buffalo won the other two meetings by a combined 11-5 score.