NEWARK, N.J. – There are games that will be struggles and games that will be tossups. And then there are games that a team pushing to make the Stanley Cup playoffs absolutely has to win.
Such is the case for the Buffalo Sabres Sunday night in Prudential Center.
The Sabres meet the New Jersey Devils and a loss to the the NHL's 29th-place team would further push the narrative that the Sabres are a pretender in the playoff race.
This will be the Sabres' first game in Prudential Center in nearly 14 months, since a 4-3 overtime victory on Dec. 29, 2017, was secured on a goal by Rasmus Ristolainen.
Buffalo is 2-1 in its last three dealings with the Devils after going 1-7-2 in the previous 10 meetings. The Sabres exploded for five second-period goals in a 5-1 win over the Devils Jan. 8 in KeyBank Center. The teams meet again here on March 25.
This meeting is the opener of a three-game road trip that also includes stops in Florida and Tampa. The Sabres did not have a morning skate today because of the early start time – 6 p.m. As usual, the game will be on MSG and WGR Radio.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1) The wild-card race: Pittsburgh held off the New York Rangers, 6-5, this afternoon while Philadelphia is at Detroit at 6 p.m. and Montreal is at Florida at 7. So when the Sabres hit the ice in Newark, they will have two games in hand on both the Hurricanes and Penguins. Another reason they have to take advantage.
As play starts Sunday, the wild-card standings look like this
Team GP Pts
MON 58 69
PIT 59 69
CAR 59 68
BUF 57 63
PHL 58 61
2). In the nets: The Sabres will go with Carter Hutton in this game after Linus Ullmark was victimized in Friday's 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers. It's crazy how close their stats are other than W-L: Hutton is 15-16-3, 2.84/.910 while Ullmark is 13-6-4, 2.98/.910. Hutton got the win in the first meeting with the Devils, making 21 saves, but is just 3-10-2 since the team's 10-game winning streak ended in November.
The Devils will be going with veteran Cory Schneider (1-7-2, 3.96/.873), who earned his first victory in more than a year Friday in Minnesota. He came on in relief of Keith Kinkaid and was the beneficiary of a big comeback as New Jersey wiped out a 4-1 deficit on the road to stun Minnesota in overtime, 5-4.
Schneider, who stopped all 15 shots he faced, had been 0-17-4 since his last victory 415 days previously – a 3-1 win over Detroit on Dec. 27, 2017.
3). Dealing with the Devils: All-Star Kyle Palmieri leads New Jersey in goals (25) and points (44). Nico Hischier, who scored the overtime winner in Minnesota, is at 17-25-42 in his sophomore season after being taken No. 1 overall in the 2017 draft in Chicago. New Jersey has a power-play goal in four straight games and its penalty killing is third in the NHL.
Center Pavel Zacha (11-6-17) is out with an upper body injury. Reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall will sit out his 24th straight game due to a lower body injury.
Devils projected lineup:
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) February 17, 2019
4). Sabres update: Buffalo has alternated win-loss for six straight games and has not won two straight since Dec. 11-13. Marco Scandella did not make the trip and is being evaluated in Buffalo while Casey Mittelstadt is expected to return after missing two games. In meeting with reporters a couple of hours before the game, coach Phil Housley said pregame warmups be decide the rest of the lineup.
Casey Nelson was called up from his conditioning stint with Rochester but is not here and will join the team tomorrow in Florida. Kyle Okposo and Zach Bogosian are scheduled to talk the warmup to make sure they're good to play.
Jeff Skinner (5-3-8) and Jack Eichel (2-6-8) led the Sabres in scoring on their seven-game homestand. Skinner is up to 36 goals, second in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin's 39. Eichel had a six-game point streak snapped against the Rangers and was minus-2 in the game.
5) By the numbers: Both teams have just 15 points since Jan. 1, tied with Ottawa for the fewest in the Eastern Conference in that span. The Sabres are at 7-9-1 and the Devils at 7-12-1. ... The Sabres are 20-9 when scoring first (20-4-5) while the Devils are just 18-18 (18-12-6). Buffalo is 15-14 in one-goal games (15-7-7) and New Jersey is just 8-15 (8-7-8). ... Since the start of 2015-16 season, the Devils are 91-0-14 when leading after 40 minutes – including 17-0-3 this year.