The Buffalo Sabres continue to try to inch their way toward what would be an unexpected playoff berth.
The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, are caught in an ugly spiral that could cause them to miss the postseason for only the second time in 16 seasons.
Buffalo aims for its third straight victory on Sunday night as it hosts New Jersey, which is trying to end a six-game losing streak.
The Sabres (15-17-6) sit in 12th place in the East, six points back of the Islanders for the conference's eighth and final playoff spot. But they've won their last two, ending the Penguins' 15-game winning streak Tuesday and knocking off the sixth-place Senators 4-2 on Friday with a three-goal third period.
Buffalo netted four regulation goals in each, the first time the club has done so in back-to-back games. The win over the Senators was the Sabres' first game without former captain Jason Pominville, who was traded to Minnesota on Wednesday.
Thomas Vanek also missed a fifth straight game due to an upper-body injury, and he isn't expected to return Sunday.
The Sabres had also recently traded veteran defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr, sending a signal to some that the team was preferring to load up for the future rather than chase a playoff spot.
"Hah, there's no memo," said Steve Ott, who scored on Friday for the second straight game after totaling two goals in his previous 20. "There's no indication of that even being said in this room. We really want to fight. There's a lot to play for in this dressing room, and we've got 10 games left to prove that."
The Devils (15-14-9) occupy 10th place in the East and are fading fast with their second six-game skid of the season. They haven't won since Ilya Kovalchuk went down with a shoulder injury March 23 against Florida, and there's still no timetable for his return - though coach Pete DeBoer said Saturday he's getting closer.
New Jersey has 10 goals in the six games Kovalchuk has missed and has scored twice on 17 power-play opportunities. Only Columbus has scored fewer goals than the Devils' 88 this season.
"There is some frustration in not winning," DeBoer said after Saturday's 2-1 home loss to Toronto. "Whether we win 1-0 or 2-1, we have to find ways to win games. That's the bottom line and that's where the frustration lies. The solution has to come from within the room."
New Jersey has made it to the playoffs every season but 2010-11 since missing out in 1995-96.
Patrick Elias has recorded nine points in his last eight games against Buffalo, while Martin Brodeur owns a 1.09 goals-against average and two shutouts over his last nine starts against the Sabres.
Buffalo's Ryan Miller, who is 5-2-1 with a 1.58 GAA in his last eight starts against New Jersey, passed Dominik Hasek on Friday for the franchise lead with 13,309 career saves.
The teams split two earlier meetings this year, with each winning at home in a shootout.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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