There are certain games that carry more meaning. The Buffalo Sabres' meeting with the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday fit that category.
The Sabres have had four seasons of misery in Continental Airlines Arena. In addition, they had not been playing as well as they'd wanted during the past couple of weeks. So the Sabres spent two days thinking of how to beat the Devils and little else. They examined their defensive system, figured out how to limit odd-numbered rushes. They studied the Devils, rediscovered that New Jersey doesn't give up much and realized that any break they got would have to be capitalized on.
The work paid off. The Sabres finally left the Meadowlands a winner, packing a 3-2 victory into their carry-on luggage as a stretch of five straight road games came to a close. It was the Sabres' first victory in East Rutherford since Feb. 22, 2001.
"It's a long time. To win against teams like that is good confidence for the team," said Sabres right wing Maxim Afinogenov, one of just three players who had won in the building with Buffalo. "I think we played right against them. We used our best to win the game."
The Sabres scored three times on odd-man rushes to take the lead -- Daniel Briere assisted on all the goals -- then held on as the Devils scored twice in the final 40 seconds to ruin Ryan Miller's shutout bid. Dominik Hasek backstopped the Sabres to a 1-0 victory in the prior win, and Miller was on his way until New Jersey rallied. Miller finished with 31 saves.
"We got a win tonight, so I'm not going to complain too much," Miller said. "It's important that we came in here to win, and we accomplished that."
The Sabres over the past four seasons were 0-7-1 in the barren arena (the crowd was announced at 11,156, but was probably one-third of that), and Buffalo snapped the skid by flashing the type of defense that New Jersey usually plays. The Sabres were content to sit back and wait for a chance to break up ice.
The first opportunity came with 7:55 left in the second period. Jochen Hecht streaked down the left side and found Briere in the slot. The co-captain's shot caromed off goalie Martin Brodeur's arm, and Hecht connected on his whack toward the net for just his second goal in 10 games.
The Sabres doubled their lead 3:12 into the third period. Briere stole the puck along the boards near center ice, and Afinogenov joined the two-on-one rush against Colin White. Briere waited for White to commit to him, then passed to Afinogenov. His shot went under the crossbar.
Briere picked up his third assist just 2:17 later. He again rushed down the left side and waited for Jason Pominville to sneak behind White. Pominville tipped in the puck at the far post.
The goal ended a seven-game scoreless skid for Pominville and was just his second in 13 games. The smiles of relief were wide when Briere and Pominville embraced as the goal light shined.
"We got a couple of rushes and were able to capitalize on them," Pominville said.
"We knew we weren't going to get too many," Briere added, "so when it happens you have to try and take advantage of it. We did on all three of them."
New Jersey finally beat Miller with 39.1 seconds left when Erik Rasmussen batted an airborne puck into the net. The play was reviewed for a high stick and was ruled a goal.
The Devils pulled Brodeur and cut their deficit to 3-2 with just 19 seconds left. Patrik Elias' shot from the point was tipped through Miller's pads by Brian Gionta.
But that was the final shot by the Devils.
"I thought we played our best defensive game of the year," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We had one batted out of the air and one redirection at the end that put a little damper on it, but other than that I thought our guys came in here and played a hell of a game."
The task was made tougher as the Sabres were without co-captain Chris Drury, who became the 11th Sabre to miss a game this season because of injury or illness. He had been suffering flu symptoms for several days, and it floored him Monday night. The Sabres called up Drew Stafford from Rochester and inserted him with Drury's linemates, left wing Ales Kotalik and Jiri Novotny, who moved to center.
The Sabres dropped the Devils to 11-2-1 at home while improving to 14-3 on the road. Winning in a building that had been such a trouble spot was a welcome relief, and it showed.
"We put a lot of work into this game the last two days," Ruff said.
Added Miller: "They were hot in their last five games and hot in this rink, and to come in here . . . I thought we did a real good job."
Sabres 3, Devils 2
Slap shots: Sabres win in New Jersey for first time since Feb. 22, 2001. ... Briere has three assists. ... Hecht, Pominville end goal droughts.
Fast fact: Due to the flu, Chris Drury misses his first game of the season.
Next game: Florida Panthers, 7 p.m. Thursday in HSBC Arena.