According to MSG+’s Steve Cangialosi, the home team has won the last six meetings between the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils. That was true earlier today as the Sabres took a 4-3 shootout victory on home ice in the first of two meetings between the teams this weekend.
Lindy Ruff was returning to his home, the place he called home as a pro hockey player from 1979 to 1989 and was a head coach from 1997 to 2012. He won a Jack Adams Award there and even continues to root for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
But this afternoon he was the enemy, coming in as the coach of a divisional rival (the first time these teams have been such). But the Sabres gave him a rude welcome.
There was also another familiar face, this one to Devils fans.
The Devils were facing Taylor Hall for the first time since his trade from the Devils to Arizona in December of 2020. The Devils did not face the Coyotes when Taylor was in the desert.
One person missing for the Devils was Travis Zajac. This is a shame because he was scheduled to play in his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday at Buffalo. Instead, he is on the COVID protocol list as of yesterday and did not make the trip to Western New York. In his place, Nick Merkley was recalled from the taxi squad.
This was the Devils’ first real road trip, going out of the New York Metropolitan area for the first time this season.
I goal, Scott Wedgewood made his fifth straight start for the Devils. He stopped 28 of 31 for a .903 save percentage. He stopped the lone shorthanded shot he saw, seven of eight on the power play and 20-of-22 at even strength.
Facing him was Linus Ullmark who stopped 31 of 34 Devils shots, the only shorthanded shot he saw and nine of ten on the power play. He turned aside 21 of 23 at even strength. He had a .912 save percentage.
Connor Carrick and Will Butcher were once again the healthy scratches for the Devils.
The Devils had a rare 5-on-3 power play early on in the first when Jesper Bratt drew a slashing call from Eric Staal and a tripping call on Brandon Montour at the same time. Buffalo would kill this power play and the Devils ended the night 1-for-5 on the power play, as did the Sabres.
The Devils actually pulled Wedgewood for the extra attacker with 2.6 seconds remaining in the first period and a faceoff deep in the Buffalo zone.
After a scoreless first period, the second began a goal frenzy.
It began with a missed Devils’ 2-on-1 when they hit the crossbar early in the period.
The Sabres finally broke the deadlock when Staal scored at the 9:03 mark of the second. It happened when the Devils got caught in a line change. Hall fed Staal with a nice pass and Staal sniped the puck by Wedgewood to make it 1-0. Montour had the secondary assist.
Late in the period, Staal would again strike when he tipped a puck by Wedgewood and it hit the post and then went under Wedgewood. Crisis averted.
But in a pattern that would recur during the game, the Devils tied things before the end of the period.
It came at 18:35 on the power play when the Pavel Zacha moved the puck to PK Subban, who went D-to-D with Ty Smith. Smith blasted a shot through a Miles Wood screen and by Ullmark to tie the game at one apiece.
That would set up a wild third period.
Just 1:37 into the new period, Andreas Johnsson would notch his first as a Devil. It came when Jack Hughes used Montour as a screen and passed through him to Johnsson. Johnsson took the pass and went top shelf, beating Ullmark to give the Devils the 2-1 lead.
But, just 30 seconds later, Tobias Rieder would take the short-lived Devils lead and put it to rest.
Cody Eakin won a puck battle with Matt Tennyson behind the Devils’ net. He made a one-handed pass to Rieder, who scored to make it 2-2.
Just seconds after that goal, Hughes was absolutely robbed by Ullmark who made a nice glove save on him.
The Sabres would retake the lead at 10:56 when Hall and Rasmus Dahlin moved the puck up high on the power play. They got it to Victor Olofsson, who shot it cleanly by Wedgewood. That gave Buffalo the lead again at 3-2.
But before things could settle in too much, Janne Kuokkanen would score his first NHL goal. It came at the 14:41 mark when Nate Bastian and Michael McLeod won the puck behind the Sabres’ goal cage. McLeod gave it to Kuokkanen, who banked it in off of Ullmark and through the unsealed right goal post. That tied it at three.
But things were not done. With less than two minutes to go in regulation, Damon Severson took a tripping call against Jack Eichel. The Sabres would finish the game on the power play and get eight seconds of power play time in overtime, should it get there.
And get there it did. The Devils killed off the penalty and OT started at four-on-four. Once there was a stoppage, things went back to three-on-three and opened up. It was then that Jesper Bratt had a clean breakaway, all alone in on Ullmark, but lost control of the puck.
And with no scoring, we were off to the shootout. In the first round, Buffalo’s Eichel scored and Bratt was stopped. In round two, Dahlin was stopped, as was Nikita Gusev. In round three, Olofsson was stopped and so was Kyle Palmieri, giving Buffalo the win, 4-3.
The Devils outshot the Sabres, 34-31, won only 39-percent of the faceoffs, hurt more by Zajac’s absence. Both teams finished with 17 hits and 12 blocked shots. The Devils had seven giveaways to Buffalo’s two.
Individually, Severson led all Devils in ice time with 24:51 while Hughes led the forwards with 23:49.
Shots were led by PK Subban with five, hits by Bastian with three, blocks by Subban with three and takeaways by McLeod, Palmieri, Gusev, Severson and Subban with one apiece.
McLeod led in faceoffs won with a 56-percent clip.
Next up, the teams will do it again tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-location. I will be working, so the report will be up later as it was tonight. See everyone tomorrow!