Even an 18-year-old phenom couldn’t make Tuesday’s game at the Rock between the Sabres and Devils all that exciting.
Buffalo skated off to a 3-1 victory over New Jersey, thanks in part to a two-point night for rookie Jack Eichel.
Both sides entered the contest looking like teams that were well aware of their seasons ending in under a week. Collectively, they recorded 10 shots, five apiece in the game’s first period.
The lackluster effort continued into the second, but a Buffalo power play produced a goal from Ryan O’Reilly at 14:12 of the period. Eichel earned an assist on the play, also picking up his 30th helper on the year.
It didn’t take long for the Sabres to add to their lead as Johan Larsson forced a turnover right outside the circle and scored an unassisted goal to put Buffalo ahead by a pair.
New Jersey would respond on the power play late in the period. Jacob Josefson’s goal at 14:31 gave the Devils their fifth power play goal in the last four games.
Despite its recent efficiency, including on their only goal, the power play was blanked on five of six opportunities, including a chance late in the third to even the game before Eichel would ice it at 19:12 with the empty-net goal.
For the Devils, it was another offensively-challenged evening, cashing in on just one goal for the second-straight game and seventh time in the last eight games in which New Jersey tallied two or less goals in a game.
After being outshot 116-66 in their last three games, the Devils managed to outshoot Buffalo 19-18, the first time since Jan. 10 at Minnesota (a 2-1 victory) that both the Devils and their opponent each recorded under 20 shots on goal, and twelfth time this season they were held to under 20.
If there was any real highlight for the announced crowd of 14,773 it was the return of Patrik Elias, who had not played since Dec. 19, 2015 after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The franchise’s all-time scoring leader was greeted to cheers from the fans as he stepped onto the ice in the first and got his first touch of the puck. Elias was held pointless in tonight’s contest, totaling 14:15 of ice time, including 4:35 of power play time, replacing Joseph Blandisi, who missed his first game since being recalled on Jan. 9 due to an unspecified ailment.
For Elias, the return is masked with plenty of question marks.
The last remaining member of the 2000 and 2003 cup championships will turn 40 next week and does not have a contract for next season. He has said he hopes it is not the end, but indicated he won’t make any final decisions right away. He has recorded 1,022 points in 1,238 career games and has scored 50 or more points 12 times, most recently in 2013-14 (53).
The Devils remain home for their final two games of the season, hosting an injury-depleted Tampa Bay on Thursday and welcoming former general manager Lou Lamoriello and the Maple Leafs to the Rock on Saturday.