The New Jersey Devils (34-36-5) miraculous playoff push is all but over.
Ryan Miller made 30 saves, and first period goals from Nathan Gerbe and Thomas Vanek led Buffalo to a 2-0 win over the Devils at HSBC Arena.
It was the first time since March 28, 2007 that the Devils lost in regulation at Buffalo. The Sabres won three games against the Devils for only the second time in franchise history.
Buffalo controlled the game from the opening faceoff, outshooting the Devils 14-3 in the first 16:17 of the opening period. Jacques Lemaire believed his team wasn't ready for the game.
"I think we weren't ready for the pace," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We weren't ready to play. It looks like guys were standing in the neutral zone. They came with a lot of speed and no one could adjust to it."
Nathan Gerbe's goal at 4:17 of the first period opened the scoring. Martin Brodeur made an initial stop on a shot from Brad Boyes, but a rebound went right to Gerbe in the right circle. His shot beat Brodeur high to the glove side for Gerbe's 14th goal of the season.
Thomas Vanek stretched the lead to 2-0 with 3:42 left in the first period. Jason Pominville fired a shot on Brodeur that the goalie stopped with his stick. Vanek pushed the rebound past Brodeur for his 26th goal of the season.
With New Jersey's recent scoring struggles, those two tallies would be more than enough. Miller kept the Devils at bay, turning away quality scoring chances during the second and third periods.
The Devils offense set a new level of infamy, breaking the team's scoreless minutes streak. The last time a Devil scored was against the Boston Bruins last Tuesday, when Ilya Kovalchuk netted a powerplay goal at 11:05 of the first period. Since then, they've been shut out twice and haven't scored in 173 minutes and 55 seconds.
"We're counted on to score goals and we just haven't been able to muster much," left-winger Brian Rolston told Gulitti. "It seems like every game we play, the other team doesn't score many either and we're playing a strong defensive game, but we have to find ways to score goals. We're just not getting the opportunities and I think most of the shots we had on him were from the outside and just not good enough against a world class goalie."
The Devils' recent 1-4-1 slide took them from playoff contenders to outside observers. Playing meaningless games this late in the year isn't something the organization has faced in 22 years. Sitting 12 points out of the playoffs, however, means the Devils won't likely clinch their 14th consecutive playoff appearance.
Any combination of the Sabres gaining three points or the Devils losing three will eliminate New Jersey from the playoffs.
Despite the bleak outlook, Ilya Kovalchuk believed the team still needs to play for pride.
"We've all got pride, we're all professionals, we have to fight through that," Kovalchuk told Gulitti. "It doesn't matter. We've still got chances. We've got to go and work. It's not an excuse."