Tonight had the makings of one crazy finish. The New Jersey Devils pounded the Buffalo Sabres at even strength for the better part of two thirds of the game but could not find the net. They either found Jhonas Enroth, the post (twice), or the endboards on chances gone missing. One could focus solely on just the chances Travis Zajac had and get the idea of how this game went. It was one of those games where it felt like one fantastic shot or ridiculous bounce would end it all and you were holding your breath that it didn't go against New Jersey. I know my own eyes widened with a little fear on the few times Buffalo were in New Jersey's end of the rink. It was still there when the game went into overtime.
But it was all erased thanks to the efforts of Steve Bernier. Bernier had the first real chance to open up the game's scoring when he deflected a shot from distance (I think it was from Anton Volchenkov) that beat Enroth and slid wide of the left post. Bernier had the final say in tonight's game with an absolutely lovely wrist shot. With a little more than 40 seconds left, Bernier carried the puck in the zone and kept it himself. He went backhand to forehand as he moved into the right circle. Defenseman Mark Pysyk was giving him space so Bernier had a go. Pysyk's attempted block was for naught as the puck fired past Enroth's glove and inside the left post. Game, NHL .500, and fourth place in the Metropolitan: all Devils.
The Rock reacted as if they were thirsty and just was given a bottle of water. They wanted a goal, they saw the Devils do everything but score, and Bernier gave it to them for the win. It was a sight to see - more so than Steve Ott beefing with Adam Henrique at the red line. There have been many nights where the Devils would end up doing more than the other team but somehow end up losing. If you don't remember, then please recall the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Tonight was different. They significantly out-shot (24-15) and out-attempted the Sabres (52-35 all situations, 40-22 in 5-on-5 play) and came away with the victory. I would say the Devils did more than enough to beat the snot out of Buffalo on the scoreboard but I'll take the deserved win in overtime anyway.
The Opposition Opinion: Andy Boron at Die by the Blade highlights Enroth in his recap. As he should, he was the main reason why Buffalo wasn't blown off the rink.
The Game Highlights: Sigh at all of the chances left begging and the second period where Buffalo actually played like a team. Grin at Bernier's winner. All in this game highlight video from NHL.com:
Shorthanded Roster: In tonight's game, Ryan Carter got destroyed in a pointless fight with Marcus Foligno. Foligno's punch knocked out Carter and the winger did not return for the rest of the game. With him out and Cam Janssen (Question: isn't he supposed to be the designated pointless fight taker?) involved, the Devils were effectively down to ten skaters for most of the night. Throw in Peter DeBoer's decision to bench Damien Brunner for the third period and the Devils ran with nine forwards in the final third of a 0-0 game. Strangely, this did not hamper the Devils much as they controlled much of the third, out-shot the Sabres 8-3 (and Adam Henrique hit a post), and just kept pinning Sabres back over and over. Dainius Zubrus, Jaromir Jagr, and Zajac all got heavy minutes but they remained mostly effective, except when they made strange decisions like dumping the puck to no Devil in deep while in the zone or forcing passes to the middle.
The Good First & Third: I cannot stress enough how well the Devils played in the first and third periods. The Sabres struggled to gain the Devils' zone and when they did, there was a red jersey right there to block pass, win a puck, and get it up quickly for a rush. The Devils had all kinds of looks on net and if Enroth was a bit worse or if the luck was a bit better, then the Devils could have piled in a bunch of goals. I know it's not true, but it looked like Christian Ehrhoff was forced to play like it was a PK given how often he was chasing the play in his own end. It was unfortunate that the Devils did not score, especially after seeing Patrik Elias miss Bernier on a killer cross-crease pass, a crossbar was struck, and Zajac was denied. The third period was essentially the first period only with fewer Devils being used. Not that it mattered much as the Devils continued to attack, attack, and attack some more. I did appreciate the Devils out-shooting the Sabres 8-3 after what happened in the third period, though they didn't light the lamp.
Across these two periods, it was clear that the Devils were in control. The defensemen had all kinds of looks. Even Volchenkov had six attempts on net and he has the offensive game of a wet paper bag. Why they kept going for slapshots (looking at you, Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas) when a wrist shot would have got the shot off quicker before a block came, I don't know. The forwards had all kinds of possession down low to create. Zubrus was a boss down low as he helped create shots for Jagr and Zajac. Bernier (he was great tonight), Elias, and Henrique were excellent at getting the play forward too. All the Sabres could do was hope to get in the way and clean up the mess. If it wasn't for some unfortunate accuracy, then the Devils could have easily put up 30 or more shots on Enroth tonight and perhaps multiple goals. Overall, the Devils controlled most of the game, second period aside, and so I'm pleased that they got the result at all.
The Poor Second: The Sabres resembled a hockey team in the second period. The Devils' own puck movement got sloppy, or at least sloppier than the Sabres. As a result, the attacks quickly turned into rushes by the skaters to get back on defense. The Devils' own power play, a carry-over from the end of the first, conceded a shorthanded rush and a second unrecorded shot. The Devils would get a few shots on Enroth but it wasn't that great of an advantage given the lack of control. This continued at evens, which helped the Sabres get into the Devils' end and wrecked some havoc. Their best chances came on their second and third power plays. The Sabres' first power play was killed without much issue; but the other two came nearly in succession and featured excellent control from the sideboards and lateral movement. Matt Moulson was absolutely robbed on a point-blank one-timer, some of those cross-ice passes nearly hit home but did not, and one lovely re-direction just went wide. All the Devils' PKers could do was watch at times but they escaped.
The Devils did have some odd-man rushes of their own, two featuring Elias where a pass went astray on one and then he kept it himself. But it was mostly Buffalo's period as they possessed the puck more often. The Sabres out-shot the Devils 8-6 and just about evened up in attempts. Maybe the long change kept some tired personnel out, which didn't help. Some of the lines just had some poor shifts. Something Brunner must of did (or, more likely, did not do) must have been the final straw for the DeBoer and his staff. Of course, Buffalo made better decisions then. Fortunately, they wouldn't get to pick on the Devils' own sloppiness for a third period and the run of play reverted to their awful start.
Schneider's Second Straight Start: Cory Schneider was given the first star of the game by Tonight's Attending Media and it was a deserved honor. Yes, he only had to face 15 shots. But the shots he stopped in the second period were difficult shots. They were not dissimilar to the ones the Devils put on Enroth in the first and third periods. Schneider had to come up big to keep his team in it and he did. He wasn't perfect, though. Schneider's play with the puck outside of the net remains an issue. He nearly had a massive Hedbergian error when he flung the puck up the boards and Tyler Ennis picked it off. Schneider had to dive to get his right pad in the way. Impressive looking but it nearly cost the team dearly. Still, he did his job when it mattered.
I was surprised to see him start at all since DeBoer has been consistent at splitting the starts. Maybe this is to "make things up" to Schneider for not getting as many minutes? Maybe it was because Schneider didn't face a lot of pucks in Carolina so there was no harm to give him a second game? Maybe it's to placate him when Martin Brodeur gets the Montreal games? Whatever the reason, he was on-point and instrumental to the team's victory tonight.
Young Forwards: I wasn't a fan of Andrei Loktionov closing his hand on the puck any more than Mark Fayne taking down Matt D`Agostini (he's still in the league!) or Zidlicky tripping Luke Adam. All three were avoidable calls and the latter two came close to costing the team. Whereas Fayne and Zidlicky are safe in the lineup, Loktionov still has to show he can keep doing good things. He wasn't as good tonight as he was in Carolina and calls like that can hurt. Though, I don't think the coaches held it against him too much as he got some PK work with Jacob Josefson.
While Josefson didn't play a lot, the play often went in the right direction when he was out there. Maybe DeBoer didn't have a choice but the fact that he still got shifts in the third period along with some PK work is a good sign for him. I would have liked to have seen Mattias Tedenby given how well all four lines worked on Friday night. Though it may not have changed DeBoer's mind from going to three forward lines in the third period since Tedenby hasn't done a whole lot as-is.
Greene is a Boss: 26:26 of ice time, three shots on six attempts, on the ice for only five attempts against, and I'm sure a load of zone exits. Oh, and he passed the puck off to Bernier before he scored in OT. He is a boss. That is all.
When Buffalo is Bad...Wow, They Are Bad: Outside of their top line of Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis (a combined six out of the team's 15 shots), what did Buffalo really do to attack tonight? They were just beaten up in the neutral zone and forced to just clear, clear, clear. I saw Ville Leino trying with only some success to win pucks in his own corner more than I saw him in space. I knew Steve Ott was a pest but he was too busy getting worked over to do even that. Outside of the Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers pairing, the Buffalo defense was just nothing but reactive play. With all due respect to the Sabres fans, but if the goalie's not hot and the shooting isn't hot, then this is a team built to tank. I don't know how one watches all that but there it is.
Return of Earl: He danced, and it was good.
Your Take: The Devils looked like the better team tonight and they won in overtime. Are you satisfied with what happened tonight? If so, why? If not, what would you have liked to have seen differently? Who would you say was the best Devil tonight? Who could have done better? How bad did you think Buffalo looked? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and those who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.