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Game 82 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Buffalo Sabres

Will we see more Devils goals today? More importantly, who on the Devils will we see this evening at all? (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Will we see more Devils goals today? More importantly, who on the Devils will we see this evening at all? (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The Time: 5 PM EDT/2 PM PDT

The Broadcast: TV: MSG+ (HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The ILWT Promotion: $0.15 per comment to TEAMJLO, an organization set up to fight ovarian cancer - more details here.  Yep, we're doing this for today too.  GameThread will be open early at 3 PM EDT.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (47-27-7) vs. the Buffalo Sabres (45-26-10)

The Last Devils Game: The New York Islanders came to the Rock and got proverbially smashed by the Devils 7-1. Just a good, old-fashioned blow out.  How nice it is to be the one giving those out.  Here's my praise-filled recap of that game.

The Last Sabres Game: The Buffalo Sabres decisively defeated the Ottawa Senators to end Ottawa's season on a down note, 5-2.    It was the first time the Sabres have beaten the Senators all season.  Tomas Vanek was a monster with 4 of the Sabres' 5 goals including the rare penalty shot goal.  Check out Die by the Blade for opinion and analysis on that game.

The Last Devils-Sabres Game: Way back on January 27, the Devils were mired in their slump that would go on to continue into February.  Coming off a 3-0 loss to the Senators the night before, the Devils did play a much better game in Buffalo. The only problem was that the Sabres had Ryan Miller in net, who was on the top of his game.  40 shots against and only one could beat him.  Martin Brodeur was no slouch either, as he stopped 31 shots and only really failed in the shootout.  In retrospect, it was a good thing that the Devils forced a shootout given how inconsistent they were playing back then.  The Sabres won the shootout and so picked up two with an official final score of 2-1.  Here was my recap of the game, which chose to focus on the good things the Devils did that night.  David Olesky of Die by the Blade had a more negative take in his recap. The Devils are 1-1-1 against the Sabres this season.

The Goal: Put out a good performance.  The Devils already clinched the Atlantic Division so they'll either finish second or third in the Eastern Conference.  Since the Devils don't absolutely, positively have to win this game, I just want to see a solid performance by the Devils.  Nothing too crazy, no injuries, and nothing that would cause anyone too much concern going into the postseason.   It's not about the result, it's about keeping momentum - that's what I think is the most crucial aspect to look for in the big picture.

I'm literally writing this after the recap of the last game, so news is a bit sparse on both sides. Consider this a more "abstract" preview in that sense.  Please check out Die by the Blade for the Buffalo side of tonight's game.  Please continue after the jump for a few more thoughts on this evening's game.

I'll repeat this elsewhere but I want to thank and congratulate the New Jersey Devils for another successful regular season.  It hasn't always been peaches and cream, but I truly enjoy writing, thinking, and talking Devils hockey.

Now, the only real meaning behind this game is that the regulation winner gets #2 in the East and the regulation loser gets #3. A Devils OT/SO loss gives them #2 anyway by nature of having more wins.  Given that both teams played last night and won by comfortable margins of victory, one could say that they could get real up for this game.  But why? Buffalo and New Jersey won their respective decisions. They're not battling for much outside of pride, really. One could argue that both teams should rest some of their key personnel such that they'll be fresher for the postseason.

As of this writing, I only know this about the Devils. Jacques Lemaire said that he plans on sitting a defenseman per Colin Stephenson of  Who that is (Bryce Salvador is the only regular who hasn't been rested yet) or whether Lemaire will make other changes will only come about on gameday.  Why stop there, though?  It'd be perfectly sensible for Yann Danis to get a start, since Brodeur doesn't need to absolutely win this game.   Likewise, it would be reasonable for Lemaire to slot in Anssi Salmela to spell a regular Devils defenseman.  He's been scratched since March 13 - we already know what Mark Fraser can do as he has played more recently.   Moreover, why not a forward so Jay Pandolfo can play; it's not like Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond will be necessary as the playoffs are normally fight-less and therefore "beef"-less.

On the other hand, Stephenson raised this question on Saturday afternoon about how important it was for the Devils to win the division.  Here's a snippet, posted prior to last night's 7-1 win over the Islanders:

Lemaire said Brodeur will play tonight. He said he doesn’t know whether Brodeur will play Sunday, as well.

"We’ll see how we play first one, see the outcome, see where we stand after this, and then we’ll make a decision,’’ Lemaire said.

The players all say they want to try to win the division and they don’t want to rest. Langenbrunner was upset for days after sitting out the 3-0 victory over Carolina last Saturday, and Parise said Thursday he doesn’t want a rest.

"I don’t think I need it, personally," he said. "I don’t want it. I guess if (Lemaire) thinks I need it, maybe, but if he asks for my opinion, I would say no. I want to make sure that I’m at the top of my game for the playoffs."

White said "it’s very important" to win the division.

"We want to finish as high as we can," he said. "That’s our goal."

Playing the full lineup and encouraging a second consecutive intense game would definitely serve to keep the momentum going for New Jersey. Which is what I actually want to see, mind you.  It certainly would fall in line with the basic mindset of most in sports: you play to win the game.   Going for it all would be the sensible approach if the goal is getting the #2 seed at any cost.  Especially if Buffalo plans to rest some of their top players like, say, Ryan Miller.  That would be nice, actually, given this is his statline:

2009 - Ryan Miller 68 3987 40 18 148 2.23 2068 1920 .928 5

It'd be also nice if Lindy Ruff told some of his top offensive players to ease up a bit, like, say:

2009 - Derek Roy 78 25 40 65 7 48 10 1 6 0 212 12.2
2009 - Tim Connolly 73 17 48 65 10 28 7 1 5 0 206 8.3
2009 - Jason Pominville 80 24 38 62 14 20 8 0 2 0 251 9.6
2009 - Thomas Vanek 69 23 25 48 6 38 9 0 5 0 180 13.2

But it would be foolish for the Sabres to do all of that.  The defense should prepare for this foursome among others anyway.   Lemaire could very well wait until Buffalo submits their lineup to make a decision; but he could just as easily go one way or another before that.   Maybe his mind is made up already.   I wish I had something more definitive. Short of that, I don't even want to guess at the Devils lineup.

What is definitive is this: by 5:30 PM or so, we'll know whether the #7 seed will be Montreal or Philadelphia.  Whoever wins tonight will get to play them, whoever doesn't will play sixth-seeded Boston.   If you really want to avoid the Flyers at all costs, you may have to do the unthinkable this afternoon: cheer on the Rangers.

The GameThread for today's game will go up at 3 PM EDT. Until then, please leave your thoughts, concerns, complaints, compliments, feelings, and news updates (with links!) in the comments.   Go Devils!