The forecheck was as strong as it had been all year.
Marek Zidlicky played his best game this season. The Devils outshot the Buffalo Sabres 39-22 and even scored a power-play goal.
Yet, all that still couldn’t translate into a win.
Such are the breaks for New Jersey these days. The Devils got a key point– No. 40– but fell to 0-6 in road shootouts in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Steve Sullivan and Mark Fayne each scored goals for New Jersey, which fell to 0-3-4 in its last seven games. Sullivan’s was his first as a Devil since Feb. 15, 1997. Fayne’s was his first of this season and his first since Feb. 21 of last year.
Still it wasn’t enough as Ryan Miller made 37 saves to lift the Sabres within four points of the East’s final-playoff spot. Miller stopped all three shootout chances– including a stellar pad save on Patrik Elias’ attempt– to drop New Jersey to 0-6 in road shootouts this year.
The Devils will probably say the same things they said after Thursday and Saturday’s losses. They played well enough to win but didn’t catch the breaks. I can’t disagree, but that and 12 cents doesn’t buy you much this time of the year.
Zidlicky was outstanding all night.
He finished with five shots– which was tied with David Clarkson for the team high. He pinched at the right time most of the night, helping the Devils forecheck and dominate possession in Buffalo’s end for large pockets of time.
Zidlicky finished as a minus-1, he was stuck covering for Anton Volchenkov on Steve Ott’s second-period marker.
Jacob Josefson, playing in his first game in more than a month, was very good too. He showed great legs and energy and won a team-high 64 percent (9 of 14) of his faceoffs.
Like the rest of the team, Josefson unluckily finished as a minus player. He was on the ice for Patrick Kaleta’s first-period goal, which dropped him to a team-worst minus-11.
On Kaleta’s goal, Andy Greene had a dreadful shift. First, his blind pass turned the puck over to Jochen Hecht at the top of the circles. Then, Greene was beaten to the net mouth by Kaleta, as he redirected Hecht’s shot past Brodeur, giving Buffalo the 1-0 lead just 4:22 in.
The Devils appeared listless until that goal but pushed back after it, dominating the rest of the first. The Devils’ forecheck drew a boarding minor on Kevin Porter, then Sullivan struck– on a neat feed from Steve Bernier– tying the game at 1 at 18:20.
Sullivan’s power-play goal was New Jersey’s first in six games. The Devils finished 1-for-5 with the man advantage.
With New Jersey’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Dainius Zubrus came up big.
The Devils were trailing 2-1 and were shorthanded with less than 15 minutes left. Zubrus took the puck, weaved through four Sabres, and found Fayne at the top of the circles with a stellar pass. Fayne beat Miller stick side to tie the game.
Fayne’s mark also allowed New Jersey to score more than one goal for the first time in three games. The Devils had scored two goals in their previous three contests.
Though he stopped 13 fewer shots than his counterpart, Martin Brodeur was good in some key spots.
Brodeur stoned Drew Stafford’s chance on a two-on-one break in overtime, and he also thwarted Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot earlier in the extra session.
Brodeur nearly stopped Ott’s second-period goal, sliding and kicking his pads in the air. The puck appeared to hit Brodeur’s pad and trickle across the goal line.
Miller was great too though. The American-born netminder made key save after key save– his best coming on Bernier midway through the second, when he stoned Bernier’s low shot with his blocker.
He also gloved Travis Zajac’s final attempt in the shootout, sealing Buffalo’s win.
The Devils are now two points behind the Rangers and Islanders for the East’s No. 8 spot.
New Jersey will now sit back and hope for some help this week as it awaits its next game, Wednesday at home against Boston.
The Rangers are in Toronto Monday. The Isles will host Philadelphia on Tuesday.