Game 82: It All Comes Down To This

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The Matchup: The Buffalo Sabres (45-26-10) face off against the New Jersey Devils (47-27-7). This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams. The Sabres lead the series, 2-1-0.

The Last Sabres Game: The Sabres defeated the Ottawa Senators, 5-2, last night. After sitting out the past six games, Thomas Vanek returned to the lineup and scored four goals to pace the Sabres. Goalie Ryan Miller finished with 28 saves for his 41st win of the season.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils defeated the Islanders, 7-1, last night. Patrik Elias tallied two goals, and five other Devils scored in the rout. Martin Brodeur stopped 18 shots for his league-leading 44th victory.

The Last Sabres – Devils Game: The Sabres defeated the Devils, 2-1, in a shootout on January 27. Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville scored in the shootout, and Miller blanked Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Tonight’s Matchup: It all comes down to the final game of the season for these two teams. The Devils only need a point from tonight’s matchup to clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference. To do it, they’ll have to face a tough Sabres team. And why not have an exciting game to end the season.

The Devils aren’t taking their collective foot off the pedal. Brodeur will get the start in net, even though The Sabres will turn to Patrick Lalime for tonight’s contest. Lemaire believes there’s no reason to rest Brodeur, because the Devils won’t have their playoff opener until Wednesday at the earliest. Brodeur should get the start. Not only has he played well lately, he’s also 5-1-2 in his last eight games, and he’s allowed six goals in his past six games. He’s found his stride, and there’s no reason for Brodeur to sit for four or five days.

The Devils have played well the past few games, and they have to do more of the same in tonight’s contest. Keep firing pucks on net and pressuring the Sabres. While the Sabres have Vanek back, they’re also missing a few players and will be weaker in goal. If the Devils can bring the same intensity and passion we saw last night, they should be able to jump ahead and get to the Sabres early.

Just a few final notes: If the Devils give up five goals or less, they will win the Jennings Tropy (fewest goals against). If they give up six goals, they’ll share the trophy with the Boston Bruins. Travis Zajac will also be the only Devil to play in all 82 games, extending his consecutive games streak to 319. Paul Martin will play in his 400th N.H.L. game.

Gametime is 5 p.m., and you can catch all the action on MSG Plus and WFAN.

Here are tonight’s line combinations:

forwards

Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Jamie Langenbrunner

Ilya Kovalchuk – Patrik Elias – Dainius Zubrus

Brian Rolston – Rob Niedermayer – David Clarkson

Jay Pandolfo – Dean McAmmond – Rod Pelley

defenseman

Bryce Salvador – Andy Greene

Mark Fraser – Mike Mottau

Martin Skoula – Paul Martin

netminder

Martin Brodeur

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