NEWARK, N.J. -- Coach Dan Bylsma believes his Buffalo Sabres have plenty to play for with a less than a week remaining in the regular season.
Bylsma and Sabres general manager Tim Murray are no doubt watching closely the energy and enthusiasm exhibited by each player down the stretch despite the fact Buffalo will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fifth straight season.
The Sabres provided that effort Tuesday when Ryan O'Reilly, Johan Larsson and Jack Eichel scored, and goaltender Chad Johnson made 18 saves in a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
"I think one of our things is our compete level and how hard we have played, and I think we've seen that for a quite a long time from our team," Bylsma said. "We haven't been in the playoff picture for a number of games but we have a reputation of being a hard team that's going to compete hard the whole game through. I thought [Tuesday] was no different; guys battled right until the end."
The win ended a five-game winning streak by the Devils against the Sabres. Buffalo lost twice to New Jersey this season.
Video: BUF@NJD: R. O'Reilly fires a shot short side for PPG
Devils left wing Patrik Elias played 14:15 in his first game in four months. The 39-year-old, who was out with a right knee injury, is in the final season of a three-year contract and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. There's a chance he could be playing his final games with New Jersey.
"I haven't played since [Dec. 19] and actually it wasn't that bad," Elias said. "Physically, it was fine. Hockey-wise, a little rusty on a couple of the plays passing and shooting, obviously, but overall not bad for first game back."
O'Reilly gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at 14:12 of the second period. After a pass from Eichel in the right circle, O'Reilly scored his 21st with a slap shot that beat goalie Cory Schneider to the glove side.
"The coaching staff has been harping on having more of a shot mentality and that [O'Reilly] goal was a great example," Bylsma said. "It was a great read by Jack on the seam pass to get it to Ryan and there was no doubt about the shot."
Larsson made it 2-0 12 seconds into the third period when he scored an unassisted goal with a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Schneider on the long side.
Video: BUF@NJD: Larsson scores 12 seconds into the 3rd
Devils center Jacob Josefson made it 2-1 with a power-play goal at 14:31. He took a pass from Tyler Kennedy and his slap shot from the right circle beat Johnson on the short side.
The Sabres had to kill a tripping penalty to Larsson with 3:44 remaining. The Devils finished 1-for-6 on the power play.
"It was a typical New Jersey Devils hockey game, and we just stuck with our game and stayed pretty tight," Johnson said. "There were some calls in the end and they got some momentum, but it was just a good effort by us."
Eichel scored into an empty net for a 3-1 lead with 47 seconds left. He fought off checks from forward Mike Sislo and defenseman David Schlemko before scoring his Sabres-leading 24th goal. Eichel had a goal and an assist for his 12th multipoint game of his rookie season.
Video: BUF@NJD: Eichel's great effort for empty-net goal
He could become the first rookie to lead the Sabres in goals since Ray Sheppard (38 goals) in 1987-88.
"It looked like a man among boys, really," Johnson said of Eichel's goal. "It's that strength he has. Schlemko is a veteran guy and a real good defenseman, but you see how much passion, how much desire [Eichel] has to outwill and outcompete players in situations like that when we need a big goal to close it out. He's been everything everyone expected."
Buffalo (34-35-11) has two games remaining.
"For us it's all about winning one game at a time," O'Reilly said. "We don't want to mail it in or think these games aren't important because they are. No matter what time in the year it is, we have to find a way to win and work together because there's never an easy game in this league."
The Devils end the regular season with home games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Video: Sabres defeat Devils to avoid season sweep