With six games remaining in the season (including this one) the Devils have little to play for except for pride, jobs and to go out on a high note. After the great win over Arizona on Saturday, they came back tonight and defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 at Prudential Center.
With the win, the Sabres remain winless on the road since January 29 – they came into the night 0-9-2 in that 11 game span – and the Devils take the season series for the fifth straight year against Buffalo.
On the injury front, Nathan Bastian (upper body) skated with the team this morning, but remains out. The Devils got Will Butcher back (he missed two games with a stomach virus), but were missing Sami Vatanen, who was out with illness. Blake Coleman was also a game-time decision with Joey Anderson being recalled from Binghamton as an emergency, but Coleman would end up playing tonight. Egor Yakovlev was a healthy scratch for the Devils.
In goal for Buffalo, Linus Ullmark made 18 saves on 20 shots against for a .900 save percentage on the night. Cory Schneider was between the pipes for New Jersey and faced a season high 46 shots, making an also-season-high 45 saves for a .978 save percentage. Cory would be named the game’s first star at the end of the night.
The power play was a big part of the win for the Devils tonight, as they went 2-for-3. scoring on both power play shots that they had. The Sabres were 0-for-3 with a huge six shots. They also had a shorthanded shot to go along with that.
The two goals the Devils scored with Ullmark in the net both came on the power play, in fact. Coleman had the first one just 1:55 into the game. Rasmus Dahlin was serving a holding penalty that Coleman had drawn. On the ensuing man advantage, Nico Hischier worked the puck along the near wall, getting it to Coleman down low. Coleman then skated out of the near corner, made a power move on Ullmark and beat him to make it 1-0 Devils. Travis Zajac had the other assist. Coleman would go on to be named the game’s third star of the night. This goal also broke a five-game Devils power play drought.
Then a weird one. At 7:23, the Sabres’ Sam Reinhart tied the game when he fired a shot from center ice and it kind of short hopped Cory to beat him. It was a kind of embarrassing play for Schneider, but one that he would shake off to come back for the win. It was the only one he surrendered all night off of a barrage of Buffalo shots.
After a scoreless second period, Pavel Zacha would give the Devils back the lead at the 4:30 mark of the third on the power play. Vladimir Sobotka was sent off for hooking Kurtis Gabriel and after the Devils worked the puck around up top, it finally got to Zacha at the far faceoff circle. He fired a shot and it beat Ullmark cleanly with Miles Wood providing the screen in front. Butcher and Kenny Agostino, both working at the point, got the assists on the goal. This made it 2-1 Devils.
A few minutes later, with 13:36 on the clock, Reinhart had seemingly tied it for Buffalo. But the Devils challenged for goalie interference. The replay showed that Evan Rodrigues in front of Cory had bumped him, not allowing him to get set for the shot. Although it seemed that Andy Greene had bumped Rodrigues into Cory, the contact with Cory came before Greene made contact with Rodrigues, if you can follow that. Either way, the goal was waved off after a review and it remained 2-1 Devils.
The Sabres pulled Ullmark with about 1:30 remaining in regulation and Wood scored into the empty net. He kind of blindly threw the puck down the ice into the net with his back turned to the goal. But it counted and made it 3-1. Greene and Zacha, who was named the game’s second star, got the assists.
Buffalo pulled their goaltender again after that and Agostino took a hooking penalty at 19:35 to put the Sabres on the power play to essentially end the game. With about two seconds remaining, the Sabres seemed to have scored again, but the goal was immediately waved off on the ice due to Conor Sheary batting the puck in with a high stick. With that, the faceoff came outside the zone, the puck was dropped and the final buzzer sounded with the Devils gaining the 3-1 win.
The Devils were out shot 46 to 21. They also won the faceoff battle, winning 58-percent of the game’s faceoffs, had more hits (22-12) and more blocked shots (10-4). They also had more giveaways at 11 to the Sabres’ six.
Individually, a New Jersey Devils single season record was set tonight. Andy Greene had two blocks, which gave him 200 on the season, good to pass Colin White (199) for most blocked shots in a single season. He also leads the NHL in blocked shots as well right now. Those two shots also led the Devils on the night.
Damon Severson led the Devils in ice time (23:04, including 2:13 on the PP and 2:26 on the PK). Zacha led the forwards with 17:23 (1:42 on the PP and 1:11 shorthanded). Shots were led by Coleman with three. Agostino led in hits with four and takeaways were led by Agostino and Kurtis Gabriel with one each.
Next up, the Devils head off to Motown to take on the Red Wings. That game is a 7:30 PM start on Friday. I have a previous engagement and will not be able to watch the game live. I am recording it and will get a write up up as soon as possible.
Also beginning this Friday is the NCAA Men’s Division 1 tournament. The Devils will have three prospects taking part in the festivities. Reilly Walsh and Harvard will take on UMass while Matt Hellickson and Notre Dame will faceoff with JC MacLean (John’s son – who is not a Devils prospect) and Clarkson in the Northeast Regional at SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Those games are on Friday with Harvard’s game at 3 PM and Notre Dame’s at 6:30 PM. Meanwhile, in the East Regional from Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, Jeremy Davies and Northeastern will face Cornell.
We will have all of the information for you right here as those games get underway. In the meantime, have a good week everyone!