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Sabres look to protect playoff position vs. Devils

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (34-35-5) at SABRES (37-28-9)


Last 10: 
New Jersey 5-4-1; Buffalo 6-3-1

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the season. The road team has taken all three previous games -- Ilya Kovalchuk's overtime goal gave the Devils a 1-0 win in Buffalo on Oct. 13, but the Sabres answered with a pair of victories in New Jersey, most recently a 5-4 shootout decision on Nov. 10 with Derek Roy netting the decisive tally.

Big story: The Sabres are doing everything they can to maintain some separation between themselves and the handful of teams also vying for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their win Friday kept them three points ahead of their closest competition, the Hurricanes. Meanwhile, after climbing back to within striking distance after once being 27 points out, the Devils' deficit is back to double digits after a shootout loss Friday and only eight games now remain.

Team Scope:

Devils: Even the 116th shutout of Martin Brodeur's career couldn't save New Jersey -- which has managed just five goals over its last five games -- from a loss in Pittsburgh on the eve of this last-gasp game at HSBC Arena. That's because Marc-Andre Fleury also pitched a shutout and the game then went to the penalty-shot tiebreaker, where James Neal finally solved Brodeur in the third round as the Penguins handed the Devils a 1-0 defeat.

"That's a good team we played," said Patrik Elias, who was stopped by Fleury on the Devils' final attempt. "It's a little frustrating because we're not scoring. But he's one of the top guys in the League."

Sabres: A breakout season for fifth-year forward Drew Stafford continued in Buffalo's 4-2 win over Florida, as the first-round pick from the 2004 Entry Draft found the back of the net twice, giving him 28 goals. That's eight more than his previous high set in 2008-09, and his three points on the night gave him 45 to tie his output from that same season. Jason Pominville and Jordan Leopold also scored for the Sabres, who got 22 saves from Ryan Miller.

"Once you get that one goal, the crowd gets into it and the momentum shifts," Pominville said. "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."

Who's hot: Brodeur has shutouts in two of his last three starts for the Devils and six for the season. ... Miller is 3-1-1 in his last five starts for the Sabres, giving up two goals or fewer four times.

Injury report: 
New Jersey forward Zach Parise is almost ready to return from a knee injury that has kept him out since the end of October, but it probably won't be until next week. ... Roy (quad) is out for the season for Buffalo, while goalie Patrick Lalime and forward Patrick Kaleta are out indefinitely with knee injuries. Forward Jochen Hecht (upper body) and defenseman Steve Montador (lower body) are day-to-day.

Stat pack: The Devils (1) and Penguins (3) combined for just four first-period shots Friday, the lowest total in a period for the Devils and an opponent since the second game of their inaugural season in New Jersey. The Devils (2) and Rangers (2) put up a combined four shots in the third period of a 3-2 New Jersey win on Oct. 8, 1982.

Puck drop: Playing on back-to-back nights is nothing new for Buffalo or Miller, who is fourth in the NHL with 62 games started. The Sabres still have three more sets of back-to-backs left among their seven games remaining after Saturday.

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