Newark, N.J. — New Jersey Devils Tomas Tatar scored two goals and an assist who clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs and sealed Buffalo’s postseason fate with a 6-2 win over the Sabres on Tuesday night at the Rock.
Jack Hughes scored a late empty-net goal for his 97th point this season, breaking the franchise record of 96 set by Patrik Elias in 2000-2001.
Even though the Devils don’t know who they are going to play in the first round of the NHL playoffs, New Jersey do know they will be home for the first series.
“If you asked me at the start of the year I probably wouldn’t have guessed this,” said Jack Hughes, talking about his franchise record. “I was just hoping that we play a meaningful hockey games down the stretch. For myself, personally, we far and above beat my expectations.”
Jesper Boqvist, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Miles Wood also scored for New Jersey. The Devils tied their franchise record with their 51st win. Goalie Vitek Vanecek made 36 saves in handing the Sabres only its second regulation loss (7-2-1) in 10 games.
The NJD trail first-place Carolina by one point in the Metropolitan Division with a game to play. If New Jersey finishes second, it would play the rival Rangers in the opening round. If they win the division, they would play the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, which is still be to determined.
New Jersey now have 110 points. They had 63 last season so the turnaround of 47 points ties Colorado (2017-18) and Pittsburgh (2006-07) for the largest differentials in NHL history.
Devils coach Lindy Ruff said there success came from by playing better defense and having more focus.
“We found a lot of different ways to win a lot of games, games we were down maybe by one or two (goals),” he said. “You look at just quick turnarounds in games that kept some streets alive, so there was a lot of different ways.”
The game also marked the NHL debut of defenseman Luke Hughes, the younger brother of center Jack Hughes. He was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft and signed last weekend after his season at Michigan ended in the Frozen Final Four.
The Devils never trailed leading 1-0 after the first period and 3-1 after the second.
Jeff Skinner and Mattias Samuelsson scored for Buffalo, who was trying to earn its first playoff berth since 2011. The 12-year run is the NHL’s current longest postseason drought. Goaltender Devon Levi made 24 saves in the loss.
Boqvist scored the only goal in the opening period with a shot from the left circle that bounced off the skate of Buffalo defenseman Henri Jokihariu through the pipes.
Siegenthaler scored on a counter attack early in the middle period on a pass from Nico Hischier.
Skinner got his 34th goal of the season off a assist from Casey Mittelstadt to trim the lead in half but couldn’t get any closer.
Tatar bumped the lead to 4-1 seven minutes into the third period. Samuelsson got his second goal of the season with 6:45 to play. Tatar and Jack Hughes each scored empty net goals in the final frame.
Hughes: Luke Hughes saw limited playing time as Ruff dressed seven defensemen, skating 13 shifts with 11:15 ice time.
“Yes it lived up to expectations and a win to top it all off is a big thing, too,” he said. “It was a really cool day and it was great to be out there.
NOTES: The Devils/Rockies franchise has had two previous sets of brothers play for the team. Patrik and Peter Sundstrom played for the New Jersey in 1989-90, while Bob and Paul Miller played for Colorado in 1981-82. Devils C Michael McLeod did not dress for the first time this season. New Jersey has four players who have played in every game — Tatar, Dawson Mercer, Dougie Hamilton, and Jesper Bratt. Mittelstadt had points in four straight games for Buffalo.
Sabres: Return home to face Ottawa on Thursday night.
Devils: Finish the regular season at Washington on Thursday night.