Game 79 Preview: Devils @ Buffalo Sabres

I mentioned this in a FanShot just recently but it bears repeating:  The Devils can clinch the Atlantic tonight with a win over Buffalo and a Flyers loss in Ottawa. The New Jersey Devils finally snapped a 6 game winless streak last night against Tampa Bay, a game where the offense awakened and saved the day.  I would have to imagine that the Devils' confidence, at least from the forwards, is considerably higher than it has been in the last 2 weeks.

As reported by Gulitti yesterday, Patrik Elias will not play tonight. I don't expect that - or the current lineup - to change. Also, with the injury to Kevin Weekes last night, I would have to think Martin Brodeur will start in net.  Brodeur did only face 11 shots, so I don't think fatigue will be an issue for him. 

For the rest of the team, it could be.  Jay Pandolfo, Brendan Shanahan, John Madden, Dainius Zubrus are just a few (but noticible!) forwards who just hustled all game long against Tampa Bay.  You could tell the team's sentiment, at least on offense, that things would be different that night.  They were different as they put 5 in the net, including a penalty shot, a power play goal, and a return to form for ZZ Pops.  It will be key for the Devils as whether they have enough left in them to play like that.  If they do and Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise is finding space on the ice, I'd like New Jersey's chances.  If not, then not so much.

The Devils did beat Buffalo the last time New Jersey went up to the HSBC Arena, the situation for both teams are different now. While tonight's game is important for New Jersey's chances to clinch the division, it's bigger for Buffalo.  They beat Washington, on the road, in overtime to keep their playoff hopes alive last night.  While they'll have to deal with the same issues of fatigue and travel; they are desperate to make the playoffs a reality.  Desperation makes an opponent more dangerous.  They had to win in Washington and the team stepped up to do just that.  Now they have to do it again, but at least in front of what should be a very excited home crowd.

As far as who the Devils should focus their attention on for what will hopefully be a better defensive performance (cough Oduya cough), the Sabres' top skaters, statistically, are Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek.  Vanek in particular, will need to be watched closely as he leads the team in goals with 37.   Especially on the power play since Vanek has 19 PPG. I would almost recommend a shadow for him during any penalty kills.  Yet, the biggest player for Buffalo, I think is Ryan Miller.  He's back from injury for the Sabres and just at the right time to provide the goaltending they need in their increasingly-faint hopes of playing past April 12.  Given the situation, I'd expect him to raise his game.  It'll up to the offense to create poor situations for him like they did to Karri Ramo last night.

Tonight, we'll see whether the Devils can continue not-slumping by getting something out of tonight's game.  Hopefully, they do!  For the Buffalo side in this game, check out Die by the Blade.

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