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Devils look to rebound in Buffalo

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

A two-game skid cooled the Devils' surge out of the All-Star break, but they'll have a chance to regain their momentum Tuesday in Buffalo.

New Jersey had fired off five straight victories before Thursday, beating the Rangers twice and posting convincing wins over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Thursday's shootout loss to St. Louis gave them points in seven straight (5-0-2) before Saturday's 3-1 setback versus Florida.

Coach Peter DeBoer didn't rule out the fatigue factor involved with playing seven games in 12 days.

"I'm not making excuses, but it was our first regulation loss in eight games," coach Peter DeBoer said Monday. "We just didn't have it. We had it early, and it faded, so you have to look at why. You have to give [the Panthers] some credit. When you take a perspective, taking the emotion of the game out of it, you look at the reasons. Why didn't we have any jump, why didn't we have legs, why couldn't we create anything? That's [fatigue] one of the reasons that pops up. Hopefully, we rectified that. We got away from the rink for a day and we'll come back reenergized here."

Martin Brodeur, whose winning streak ended at four, finished with 17 saves. He will start Tuesday's series finale with Buffalo.

The Devils (31-20-4) are facing the Sabres for the fourth and final time this season. They took the first two meetings – 5-3 at Buffalo on Nov. 16 and 3-1 at Prudential Center on Dec. 28 – before coming up short in a 2-1 shootout defeat at home on Jan. 24.

New Jersey was sixth in the East entering Monday's action, three points behind fifth-place Pittsburgh.

The Sabres' (24-25-6) three-game win streak ended with a 2-1 home loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. Buffalo is 5-1-1 in its last seven.

"They're playing for their life, as are the other teams we're playing this week, Anaheim and Montreal, Toronto," DeBoer said. "It's not necessarily the opponent as much as the desperation level. And right now, for me, the desperation level doesn't get any higher than two weeks prior to the trade deadline."

Patrik Elias has two goals, three assists for five points in the first three games of the season series. Zach Parise and Petr Sykora each have two goals and an assist, while Brodeur had an assist in each of the first two games.

Brodeur has started all three games, going 2-0-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

"This was going to be his start even if the numbers told a different story," DeBoer said. "He's rested, we're in the stretch run here, Heddy [Johan Hedberg] will still get some games, but Marty's going to play a lot."

Elias, the Devils' leading scorer (19g-34a-53pts), has 19 points (6g-13a) in his last 16 games. He saw a seven-game points streak end Saturday (2g-6a).

Ilya Kovalchuk trails Elias by one point (22g-30a-52pts) and has 12 points (3a-9a) in his last seven games.

Like Elias, Parise had a seven-game points streak snapped Saturday (6g-3a). He's third on the Devils with 48 points (21g-27a).

DeBoer practiced the same lines from the end of Saturday's game, moving Adam Henrique back between Parise and Kovalchuk, and putting Elias between Sykora and David Clarkson. Dainius Zubrus centered Alexei Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier.

"I'm not married to any combination," the coach said. "We're just trying to score some goals and get some depth scoring. We had one [goal] last game and we've got to some different combinations today, but that doesn't mean we won't end up back where we were again."

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