New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur makes a save on the Buffalo Sabres during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, April, 4, 2009. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Don Heupel
BUFFALO, N.Y. - No way the New Jersey Devils were going to blow a three-goal lead. Not with Martin Brodeur in net.
The NHL's winningest goalie wasn't perfect in the face of the Buffalo Sabres' furious third-period rally. What mattered was Brodeur stopping 35 shots - including 21 of the 23 he faced over the final 20 minutes - to preserve a 3-2 victory Saturday night.
"They came out and threw everything at us. But we handled it pretty good," Brodeur said. "It hasn't been easy. We haven't played a full 60 minutes. But we've played well enough to win hockey games and that's the bottom line."
Brodeur more than did his part. With the game on the line, he made a sprawling save to foil Adam Mair's deflection of Paul Gaustad's shot from the right boards. Then there was his kick save on Tim Connolly's snap shot from the circle.
The Devils' defence also bailed him out, blocking two shots in the final minute and allowing only one shot on goal in the final 37 seconds after New Jersey's Colin White was penalized for delay of game.
"They did throw stuff at us, but you need your goaltender to be big in the third period," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We held the fort."
New Jersey, coming off a 5-4 overtime win over Tampa Bay on Friday night, has won consecutive games since snapping an 0-5-1 skid. By improving to 49-26-4, the Devils matched a franchise record for victories set in 2006-07, and moved to the cusp of clinching their eighth Atlantic Division title since 1997.
New Jersey enters the final week of the season a point or a Philadelphia loss away from winning the division.
Jamie Langenbrunner had a goal and assist, while David Clarkson and Zach Parise also scored in helping the Devils get off to a 3-0 lead.
Jochen Hecht and Clarke MacArthur scored for the Sabres, who had a 4-0-1 streak snapped and squandered a great opportunity to put themselves firmly in the hunt for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff berth. With four games left, Buffalo remains in 10th place, four points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, who lost to Boston earlier in the day.
"We need some help," Derek Roy said, summing up the Sabres playoff chances. "It's frustrating."
Too bad the Sabres couldn't help themselves. Coming off a 5-4 overtime win at Washington on Friday, the Sabres had little jump to start the game. They generated only 14 shots on net through two periods, and were held without a shot for the final 10 minutes of the second frame.
It wasn't until the third period when Buffalo began playing with desperation.
"We got off to a tough start," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "Guys wanted to go out and get a feel like this was just another game. And, bang, we're down 2-0."
Miller allowed three goals on 22 shots, and was pulled after two periods. Aside from attempting to give his team a spark, Coach Lindy Ruff explained he wanted to give Miller a rest as the Sabres close the season playing four games in six days.
The Devils took control early.
Clarkson opened the scoring 2:28 in when his shot from the top of the right circle floated through a crowd to beat Miller. Parise made it 2-0 with a power-play goal by tipping in Paul Martin's shot from the blue line.
Langenbrunner then sealed it with a workmanlike goal seven minutes into the second period. He set up the goal by first checking Andrej Sekera off the puck to the left of the Sabres net. After attempting to set up Bobby Holik in front, Langenbrunner got to the loose puck and slipped it in through Miller's legs.
The Devils are starting to feel much better about themselves in easing the memories of their two-week long slump.
In their past two games, the Devils have scored eight goals - one more than they managed during their six-game skid.
"The last few weeks have been tough for us," Langenbrunner said. "But last night, we were able to scratch out a win. And tonight, the first two periods were the best we've played in a while."
Notes: The Devils snapped a six-game road skid (0-5-1), their longest since a 12-gamer during the 1995-96 season. ... Devils D Niclas Havelid did not play because of a lower-body injury, while LW Patrik Elias (leg) missed his third straight game. ... Sabres RW Jason Pominville played in his 300th career game. ... Sabres backup G Mikael Tellqvist stopped all six shots he face in relief of Miller. ... Sabres gritty forward Patrick Kaleta missed the third period because of a migraine.