Tonight is the last home game of the regular season, with it being fan-appreciation night at the Rock. 16th sell-out of the season at Prudential Center, and I imagine that will be eclipsed after roughly 16 home games next year.
A lot on the line tonight for the Devils, needing one point to clinch home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Additionally, a win would tie the NHL all-time biggest one-year turnaround at 47 points better than last season as well as tie the franchise record of 51 wins in a season. Finally, the Devils do have the tie-breaker over Carolina, so if they gain one more point than Carolina in last two games, they win the division. With the Canes playing against a desperate Florida team in their final game, it is certainly not impossible that the Canes drop a point and the Devils, with wins hopefully tonight and against the Capitals, could steal the division on the final night of the regular season.
Individually, Jack Hughes needs 1 point to break the Devils single-season points record, currently being tied with Patrik Elias at 96. Brother Luke Hughes makes his debut, with the Devils going 11-7 to accomadate him, McLeod dropping out of the lineup, likely resting after getting cheapshot by Marchand against the Bruins.
Devon Levi in net for the Sabres, the rookie is 4-1-0 in five games, with a 0.908 save percentage, and has been the sole reason the Sabres, who are 7-2-1 in last 10, are still mathematically in it. In the opposite net, Vitek Vanecek gets the nod for the Devils.
Luke Hughes is out for opening face off with brother Jack. He is alongside Ryan Graves for this one, but will likely jump around with different partners throughout the game, being the 7th of seven D-men.
Sabres have the first couple chances, Vanecek stopping forwards twice from the slot, before stopping a partial breakaway from Alex Tuch. Sleepy defense for the Devils as they are just not quick enough to close down the Sabres forwards.
Hischier has the first chance for the Devils, with a power move to the net. But the Devils defense starts a little slow, with Sabres getting the majority of early looks.
A penalty is called on the Devils after 7:30, as Graves cross checks his guy in front of the Devils’ net with the play elsewhere. However, nothing to worry about, with a very strong kill, not allowing Buffalo the chance to set up. No shots for the Sabres on that one.
Luke Hughes is mostly out there with the double-shifted Hamilton. He seems fine so far, making pretty safe plays with the puck in his own zone and having solid positioning defensively.
Jesper Boqvist then puts the Devils ahead. 1-0. He is out with Bastian and Wood, Bastian sends it into the corner, Wood gets there first and puts it on from a tight angle. Boqvist gets the rebound, sending it into the crease looking for Bastian and it bounces in off the Sabres D-man. Boqvist gets his 10th of the season, a pretty impressive offensive output for the defense-first guy (all things considered) as he gets his second consecutive 10-goal season. Boqvist then makes good defensive play as Marino pinches, getting back to stop Skinner from putting it out in front to a streaking teammate.
Boqvy nets first! pic.twitter.com/EYUfL05jyr— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 11, 2023
Despite that good kill and then the goal, Buffalo are still getting the majority of the chances. However, after a TV timeout with 5 to go in first, the momentum shifts the Devils’ way. Bahl gets a good chance after nice Mercer-Hischier interplay. Bastian then tips one onto the post after the ensuing faceoff. Hughes creates a good chance for Bratt and Palat, who tried to send it back to him across the crease. Tatar is stopped on a partial breakaway. Should be 2-0 after that flurry of chances.
With little time left in the period, poor defensive coverage by Devils. As Marino loses his helmet and has to go to bench, nobody takes that left-D position, letting Power send it across to his forward all alone, who mishandles the puck, thankfully, as he would have been one-on-one otherwise. To close the period, Buffalo sends a couple into the chest of Vanecek, one bounces for a juicy rebound that the Devils just get away. The puck bounces out to Tuch alone who puts it on, Vanecek kicks it out loosely and Skinner puts it through the crease as the Devils survived unscathed.
Hughes is denied a tripping call when he was blatantly tripped up, but shortly thereafter Tatar brings it into the zone, passes it to Hischier who lays it off back to Siegenthaler who slaps it off the post and in past Levi. It may have deflected slightly off a Sabre in front. 2-0 Devils a minute in.
They must not have seen sneaky Siegs trailing. pic.twitter.com/DggPmVGKTH— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 12, 2023
Luke Hughes is out against the Sabres’ top line, absorbing a couple hits behind the net to keep the puck away from their forecheck. On the next shift, Greenway loses an edge skating around the net and slips, sliding through Vanecek. Play is blown but no call, Greenway being given the benefit of the doubt.
Luke Hughes tries to send the puck up ice with a breakaway pass for Wood, but the D gets it. Good initiative from the debutant. He then slips as Jokiharju gets the puck around him, but Vitek stops him when all alone. Not a great look for Hughes as he wasn’t quite watching the Sabres man skate up and around him and was caught flat-footed when he realized what was going on. After Vanecek makes that strong save the puck immediately goes the other way and Wood is dumped into the Sabres net.
More sloppy defense and the Sabres finally (seemingly) make the Devils play. With Okposo taking it into the zone, Palat and Hamilton converge on him leaving Peterka alone on the left flank. Okposo flips it through for him and he beats Vanacek five-hole. Luckily for the Devils, Peterka was a mile offside and the review is called and confirmed with little delay. No goal. I can somewhat forgive the sloppy defense since Peterka was already in the zone, but the Devils are still lucky to not get burned on a poor play.
There is a scramble in Vanecek’s crease as Vitek is down on the ice, the puck ultimately flying just past his net, before Quinn hits the cross bar. Furious Sabres push after the Siegenthaler goal and it eventually does pay off, as Skinner gets away from his defenders all alone on the far side and puts it in. The Devils were outnumbered and Skinner was left uncovered. This one counts, 2-1 Devils, who are looking far from convincing. Very poor not to wake up after that stern warning with the offside goal.
Thompson glides through the Devils’ defense and Vanecek stones him twice. Silky play from the 40-goal scorer, but poor defense to give him the opportunity to just slice his way to the net unopposed.
And then the Devils score again, 3-1, with Wood banging in a rebound after Hischier had come into the zone previously to create a chance. Hamilton puts it on and Wood puts it away. Bemused Devils fan writing this, as that was as undeserved as it comes. Good trait from the Devils, I guess, but I would rather not get outplayed by a non-playoff team and have to get the momentum-opposing goal.
Miles Wood: Hockey Guy. pic.twitter.com/MvsJ1psYjT— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 12, 2023
Dahlin puts one on from the point and Vanecek swallows it. After the faceoff, Dahlin puts one on from the point and it blasts off the post. The Sabres show no sign of going away.
Bratt is sent in by Hughes and tries to backhand it up high near post but Levi denies him. Hughes to Palat to Bratt a couple seconds later and Levi denies him again. Meier runs over Rasmus Dahlin to raucous cheers from the Prudential Center. Thompson bangs it on from the goal line and rings it off the post. That one sounds more dangerous than it was.
Hughes dances into the zone and Dahlin clumsily trips him up as he skates along the blueline. That comes seconds after Graves bounced Thompson as he skated in on him. Powerplay Devils. It takes the Devils a minute to get into the zone, but when they do, they almost make it worth the wait ,as Levi robs Hischier on a one-timer after a one-touch play from Hughes to Bratt to Nico. Nothing doing with the second unit as time winds down on the power play and then the second period.
The first whistle in the third comes 2:35 in, nothing really happening. Luke Hughes is out with Severson and does well skating the puck out of the zone. Hamilton puts a shot on and Levi stones Bratt on the rebound, with the Devils drawing a call as Palat is tripped up a few moments later. Hughes almost finds Meier on the far post for the easy tap in but it just misses his stick. Going the other way Vanecek does very well to stop Girgensons as Power skated around the net drawing two defenders and flicking it out in front for him. Second unit is out, and they do get set up but the passing is a bit slow and Levi can face up against any Devils shot. Hardly convincing power play play tonight for the Devils.
Bratt dances around in the corner and Dahlin just can’t keep up, tripping over as Bratt changes direction sharply. Bratt and Jack making Dahlin look a little oafish tonight, which made me smile. Bahl has a golden opportunity to blast it from between the circles, but decides to hold onto it, spinning and putting it back to Severson who quickly plays it to Tatar in the left circle who gets it past Levi for his 19th goal of the season, putting the Devils up by three. I was just writing that the Devils have done a good job of letting the clock run, playing low-event hockey so far in the third, but scoring is of course better than running the clock down, so I happily erased what I was writing.
Tatar on target. pic.twitter.com/KSVKiGnwEw— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 12, 2023
Great play by Luke Hughes, moving the puck along the blueline avoiding pressure, getting it to Tatar who set up Hischier for a great look, again stopped by Levi. On a 3-on-2, Hughes gets it to Bratt who just blasts it high. Jack can’t buy a point tonight to get the record, poor guy, the man should have had four or five at this point. Siegenthaler loses his helmet, leaving the left side of the ice open, Hamilton loses the puck and it gets across to Samuelsson who gets it past Vanecek. 4-2, as the Devils fail to cover the vacant space left by Siegenthaler. Highly reminiscent of that Marino situation back in the first.
The Sabres almost get another one quickly as Jack Quinn tries to jam it home at the post, denied by a combination of Vanecek’s pad and Luke Hughes’ stick. Jack skates around behind the net evading the Sabres defenseman and slides it out in front where Hamilton is completely unmarked, but can’t get it home on a remarkable miss, putting it wide. Palat then gets called for tripping and the Buffalo power play come out with five to go. A couple chances early on the power play for the Sabres, Vanecek holding strong, before the Sabres pull Levi with a minute to go on the man-advantage. Bastian sends it just wide on the empty net. Mercer does a great job getting it out twice, the second time giving Hischier the puck in the neutral zone, who somehow puts it wide. Graves has an unbelievable stop as Thompson wraps it with Vanecek on the other side of the net, Graves sliding to prevent the goal just getting a stick on it. They kill it off, and there is 2.55 to go.
Tatar gets it from Bastian in the neutral zone and skates it all the way into the net for his 20th of the year. Sixth 20-goalscorer on the Devils this season, the first time since 2000-01 that the Devils have had six. 5-2 Devils and that is that. Sabres timeout with 2.09 to go, with Levi heading back to the bench. Jack Hughes goes for it from behind his own net and puts it well wide, but somehow Bratt negates the icing getting the puck and with no thought whatsoever of getting the goal himself, he gets it to Hughes, who finally puts it home for the record-breaking 97th point of the season, as he stands alone in single-season points totals by Devils. 6-2 Devils
Time winds down, the Devils get the win and ensure first-round home-ice for the first time since 2010. They tie the franchise record of 51 wins in the regular season.
Frustrating Play at Times
You’ll note that I was not impressed with how the Devils were playing at times, especially in the second. Admittedly, holding them to high standards — teams will get chances, will get goals, no matter how good you are — but I thought the mentality wasn’t great there where they were shipping so many chances to the Sabres without snapping out of it, especially after getting that warning with the disallowed goal. I would like to see them clean that up. Granted, this game was more meaningful for the Sabres. Although, was it really? There is no way the Sabres were going to make the playoffs, practically, needing all three of the Islanders, Panthers and Penguins to lose all their games, basically, and needing to win all of theirs. This was huge for the Devils, with home ice and the division on the line, so I don’t think that the Sabres should have wanted it more. I don’t know. It just made me a little annoyed, that’s all.
On the positive side, Luke Hughes, I thought, had a very good debut. Other than that spot he got himself into with Jokiharju in the second, he played perfectly solid hockey and showed some offensive spark with a nice stretch pass attempt to Wood and a great play at the offensive blue line to set up a chance for Hischier. No reason to believe, on this showing, that he won’t be as good as we all expect him to be. And if he is, well, at least Jack is happy to be around: I’ve never heard him more congenial in interviews.
Which bro got the bigger ovation? pic.twitter.com/hgb80E53kZ— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 12, 2023
The Devils have Vanecek to thank for this one. The MoneyPuck Deserve To Win O’Meter have the Devils at 42%, so they did in fact play a worse game than the Sabres. Not great. Vanecek was. He stopped 36 of 38 shots against, good for 1.82 goals saved above expected. He is rounding into form nicely for the playoffs.
Finally, Miles Wood had a very good game (although being below 50% in individual xG for percentage) scoring a big goal in the second and getting the primary assist on Boqvist’s opener. I am resigned to the fact that Wood will play if healthy in the playoffs when he really shouldn’t be, so if he can play with the intensity that I thought he had tonight, that would be very welcome. And the production is of course an added bonus.
What were your impressions with the Devils in this one? Everything turned out ideally in the end, but I would have hoped for a better process getting there. Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading and supporting the site.