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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Mar 28, 2024 3:56 pm

Rising Devils, slumping Sabres both behind in playoff chase

devils jake allen

The New Jersey Devils hope to continue their postseason push while keeping the host Buffalo Sabres behind in the playoff race when the two teams meet on Friday.

The Devils are chasing both the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference wild-card position. While only three points separate New Jersey (36-33-4, 76 points) and Buffalo (34-34-5, 73 points), the two clubs seem far apart in terms of recent form.

After picking up wins on the first two stops on their three-game road trip, the Devils are 4-1-0 in their last five games. Tuesday’s 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs saw New Jersey score four unanswered goals after falling behind 3-2 early in the second period.

Toronto outshot New Jersey by a 45-25 margin, including a whopping 25-10 barrage in the first period. Jake Allen was often outstanding in stopping 42 of those 45 shots, as the goaltender earned his fourth win in six games in a Devils uniform.

“(Allen) kept us in the game, they were all over us in the first period for sure … He gives us the saves we need, gives us the momentum back in games,” Devils captain Nico Hischier said. “If you have a solid goalie in the net, that makes your work easier.”

The trade deadline acquisitions of Allen and new backup goalie Kaapo Kahkonen have stabilized New Jersey’s season-long problems in net. Allen has a 2.51 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage for New Jersey, while Kahkonen has a 2.17 GAA and a .934 save percentage in three games.

Timo Meier has carried the offense with 23 points (14 goals, nine assists) in his last 17 games.

New Jersey is 6-for-19 on power plays and a perfect 20-for-20 on penalty kills in its last six games. This suggests a big special teams advantage for the Devils on Friday, as the Sabres are 0-for-12 on power plays and only 12-for-16 on the kill in their last five games.

The struggling special teams units are part of the reason Buffalo is only 2-4-0 in its last six games. The first five of those outings came during a road trip, before the club opened a five-game homestand with a thud in Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

The Sabres allowed a season-high 42 shots and trailed 5-0 at the first intermission. Defenseman Connor Clifton described the Sabres’ poor start and the overall performance as “unacceptable,” particularly with Buffalo’s playoff chances hanging by a thread.

“To not show up and play that careless style, and give (the Senators) freebies all over the place … I was pretty shocked. I thought, you know, our season’s on the line,” Clifton said.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen got the early hook after allowing four goals on nine shots, and Devon Levi stopped 31 of 32 shots over the remaining 50:14 of play. Since the Sabres also play Saturday against the Maple Leafs, Luukkonen and Levi will probably split the back-to-back starts in some order.

The Sabres are 17-18-1 (35 points) at home this season, and only five teams have fewer points on home ice.

Buffalo forward Alex Tuch has eight points (one goal, seven assists) during a six-game points streak.

The Devils won both previous games with Buffalo this season, and are 9-3-0 against the Sabres dating back to the 2020-21 season.

–Field Level Media

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