-- The New Jersey Devils
assured themselves home ice advantage for at least two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Sunday when Jamie Langenbrunner scored into an empty net with three seconds remaining in the third period for a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres
before 17,625 at Prudential Center.
The second-seeded Devils will now face the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs. The Devils finished an uninspiring 1-4-1 against their Atlantic Division nemesis in the regular season.
"They had our number in the regular season and did things that took us off our game and we'll have to address that and understand the way they play and play accordingly," Langenbrunner said. "Our power-play will have to deliver because they'll take some penalties, that's their style. But we have to stay disciplined and smart and take advantage of our opportunities."
The Sabres, meanwhile, finish third in the Conference and will face sixth-seeded Boston. Buffalo finished 2-2-2 against their Northeast Division rival this season.
"The Bruins are a good team and we've had good matchups against them," Sabres rookie defenseman Tyler Myers
told NHL.com. "I'm very excited for my first opportunity to play in the NHL playoffs and I know the intensity will jump up. It's a matter of working that much harder."
The Devils needed at least one point against the Sabres to earn their highest postseason seed in three seasons and they did so behind Langenbrunner's unusual gift and 22 saves by Martin Brodeur
"They don't ask you how you win them," Brodeur said with a grin. "I've played in almost 1,100 hockey games in this League and it's probably the first time I can remember being involved in a game where the goalie was pulled in a tie hockey game. But we'll take it."
The Sabres had pulled their goalie for an extra attacker while shorthanded and with less than 30 seconds remaining since they needed a regulation victory in order to jump over the Devils from third to second in the Eastern Conference.
"I think we caught them by surprise because I saw (Lalime) coming off and it was a tough situation because they had to win in regulation but they were also shorthanded," said Langenbrunner, who was assisted by Zach Parise
and Brian Rolston on the winner. "We did what we wanted to do and finished as high as possible to give ourselves a big opportunity. Now we have to go deliver in the playoffs. We're excited about our chances."
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was also at a loss for words over the quick turn of events in the final seconds of the game.
"I was surprised myself," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "I wasn't looking over there and then when Jamie got the puck and decided to shoot, I said, 'Where's the goalie?' Then I looked up and knew why they pulled him."
In somewhat of a surprising move, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff opted to give starting goalie Ryan Miller
a rare night off and, instead, give backup Patrick Lalime some work. The decision was actually made Saturday after Miller had set a franchise record with his 41st victory of the season in a 5-2 decision over the Ottawa Senators. Lalime played well, too, with 32 saves.
"(Lalime) played great tonight," Myers said. "It's not his fault at all. It was just bad timing and when you risk going for second like that, sometimes that happens. But he played unbelievable for us."
The Devils pulled into a 1-1 tie 6:27 into the second when Travis Zajac
controlled a loose puck to Lalime's right and lofted a backhander that beat the veteran goalie between the post and his right pad. Ilya Kovalchuk
, who notched his 44th assist on the goal, was occupying space in the slot to enable Zajac to pick up the loose puck and whisk home his 25th of the season.
Brodeur made a splendid diving stop on Derek Roy
with his team shorthanded just 20 seconds into the third to keep the game tied. Lalime would match his counterpart 4:24 into the period when he stoned David Clarkson
's wrist shot from between the circles with his right arm.
Lalime would come up big again with 6:19 left in the third when Patrik Elias
made a strong move into the right circle and released a backhand that the goalie controlled in the breadbasket.
The best stop of the game, however, came with under three minutes remaining when a screened Brodeur slid from his left to right to deny defenseman Toni Lyndman on a quick wrist shot at the left hashmark.
"I got caught up a bit and thought (winger Paul) Gaustad was going to take the shot (down right wing)," Brodeur said. "He was at the angle and I saw that lane open a bit and the only way for me to get there was going pads-first. I was able to get them down."
The Sabres opened a 1-0 lead in the second when Thomas Vanek
knocked home a shot from the slot off a feed from Roy at the 1:10 mark.
The Devils, who yielded an NHL-low 186 goals this season, officially clinched the William Jennings Trophy in the victory. For Brodeur, it marks the fifth time he'll have his named engraved on the Jennings Trophy. Backup goalie Yann Danis, who has appeared in 12 games this season, did not play in the required amount of games (25 games) to be eligible to have his named on the Trophy.
"It's not something on your mind because you just worry about playing good defense and taking care of the puck all the time," Devils defenseman Andy Greene
told NHL.com. "But we'll take it and we're pride of it."
The Devils last won the Jennings in 2003-04 when they yielded 164 goals in 82 games. Brodeur appeared in 77 of New Jersey's 82 games this season -- the third time in the past four seasons he has played that many. Brodeur's five Jennings wins match the total of Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy for the most among all goaltenders since the award was introduced in 1981-82.
"It's exciting and my fifth one so it's definitely a tribute to the players who play in front of me because every day they go out and pay attention defensively," Brodeur said. "And Yann, being his first year here and playing a part of it is great too."
"The Jennings is not only about a good goalie, but about teamwork," Lemaire said. "The defenseman played great and forwards came back hard, so it's a combination of all the players on the ice."