Devils 3, Sabres 2

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—Martin Brodeur has been around too long to get very excited about the New Jersey Devils’ three-game winning streak.

Brodeur made 26 saves, and Brian Rafalski had a goal and an assist to help the Devils beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Saturday night, giving New Jersey its first three-game winning streak since November.

“You can’t go through 40 games the way we’ve played thinking that three games will erase everything, but I hope so,” Brodeur said. “We still have a long road ahead of us to get ourselves established as a team that people will take seriously.”

The Devils are a game over .500 after wins over Florida, Montreal and the Sabres.

“We’ve beaten three hockey clubs, and that’s a positive,” said Scott Gomez, whose seventh goal in the last five games gave New Jersey a 3-1 lead in the second period. “We put ourselves in a position where we are looking up. Three games is nice, and hopefully we’ll keep it going.”

New Jersey improved to 5-5 under general manager and interim coach Lou Lamoriello, who took over behind the bench after Larry Robinson resigned last month.

“As soon as I can get someone, we will have someone there,” Lamoriello said.

Jamie Langenbrunner also scored for the Devils, who still find themselves on the outside looking in for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Brodeur won for the fourth time in his last five starts, preserving the win with 14 saves in the third period, including consecutive saves from in close on Jochen Hecht, Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov in the final seconds.

“It’s nice to win hockey games,” Brodeur said. “We’re going through a tough year, and this is a nice little stretch.”

The Devils were solid in all phases of the game against a Sabres team that was playing without their co-captain Chris Drury, who was held out because of a mild groin strain. After Afinogenov gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal, the Devils turned up the heat offensively while clamping down in their own end.

The Sabres mustered just 13 shots in the first two periods when they fell behind 3-1. The Devils have not lost in regulation when leading after two frames this season.

“They get great goaltending, they play their system perfectly, and they work hard,” said Sabres rookie Thomas Vanek, who cut New Jersey’s lead to 3-2 with a late goal in the third period. “It’s tough to come back.”

The Sabres lost for the second time in the last three games, and are 2-2 on their six-game homestand.

They were also missing defenseman and ice-time leader Toni Lydman, who was sick.

“We lost a couple of key personnel,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “We dumped some more ice time on some guy’s plates, and those guys didn’t respond.”

Following Afinogenov’s goal, Langenbrunner tied it with 44 seconds left in the first.

New Jersey took the lead after Rafalski’s goal 2:36 into the second, and pushed the advantage to 3-1 on Gomez’s 16th of the season 3 1/2 minutes later.

Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller finished with 24 saves.

“It’s a matter of doing things right and putting ourselves in good situations,” Rafalski said. “I don’t think we were doing that early in the season, and that was costing us.”

The Sabres failed in their attempt to draw to within a point of Northeast Division-leading Ottawa. The Senators lost Saturday to Montreal.

Notes

Buffalo forward J.P. Dumont’s recovery from surgery to repair a sports hernia is ahead of schedule. Dumont, originally expected to return at the end of February, hopes to play before the league breaks for the Olympics in the middle of February. … Buffalo D Nathan Paetsch was making his NHL debut after being called up earlier in the day from the Sabres’ AHL affiliate in Rochester, and assisted on Afinogenov’s goal. … New Jersey forward Patrik Elias assisted on Gomez’s goal, and has points in all three games since returning Tuesday from Hepatitis A. … John Madden added two assists for the Devils.

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Three Stars

  Game Winning Goal
S. Gomez S. Gomez
New Jersey Devils
Scored at 6:01 of 2nd

Goaltending

Goalie Team Shot Save
Martin Brodeur NJ 28 26
Ryan Miller Van 27 24