Brodeur made 31 saves to help the Devils to a 3-2 win over the Sabres on Saturday night, moving New Jersey one point behind suddenly stumbling Buffalo.
“We’re here to get points and shake off Pittsburgh, but it’s fun to be close to the top,” said Brodeur, who won his league-leading 41st game. “That’s why you play . . . to be the best.”
New Jersey has an eight-point lead over the Penguins in the Atlantic, will host them Wednesday night.
“For us, we’re trying to move forward,” Brodeur said.
The victory over Buffalo was even more impressive since New Jersey played with just 16 skaters for the majority of the game. The Devils were without forward Brian Gionta (groin) and defenceman Colin White (hand), and then lost Erik Rasmussen for most of the game after he was hit in the face with the puck following Brian Rafalski’s clearing attempt seven minutes into the game.
It was the second consecutive game New Jersey played two below the normal 18 skaters.
“It’s one of those things that guys don’t think who’s in or who’s out,” said Jim Dowd, who assisted on Rafalski’s short-handed goal – which proved to be the winner – with 28 seconds left in the second period. “You just have to be ready for the game when your number is called.”
Travis Zajac and Michael Rupp also scored for the Devils, who have won two consecutive games. New Jersey has beaten the Sabres in two of the first three meetings this season.
“It’s two points,” Rafalski said. “Our focus is playing the best we have with what we have and getting ourselves in the best mindset.”
Dainius Zubrus and Daniel Briere scored for the Sabres, who have lost three straight, matching a season high.
“I don’t think anybody is panicking,” Zubrus said.
Still, the high-flying Sabres are struggling, thanks in large part to their sudden inability to score. They have totalled only eight goals in the last four games.
“Teams want to control our offence,” defenceman Nathan Paetsch said. “We’ve scored the most goals in the league, so they are trying to find ways to beat us.” Zubrus opened the scoring with his first goal for Buffalo since being acquired from Washington at the trade deadline, snapping a shot from the outer edge of the right circle past Brodeur at 3:23 of the first.
New Jersey tied it on Zajac’s goal 2½ minutes later. Zajac deflected Jamie Langenbrunner’s shot in mid-air past goalie Ryan Miller.
The Devils took a 2-1 lead on Rupp’s goal 33 seconds into the second, but Buffalo tied it when Briere netted his 28th goal after deflecting Paetsch’s shot from the left point at 16:12.
New Jersey then went ahead 3-2 on Rafalski’s short-handed goal. With Sergei Brylin in the penalty box after being handed a double-minor penalty for high-sticking Buffalo’s Derek Roy, Rafalski wristed a shot that beat Miller between the legs.
“To me it’s a gutsy effort,” New Jersey coach Claude Julien said. “Guys just keep plugging away.”
The Sabres have allowed a short-handed goal in three straight games, and only Boston (15) has given up more than Buffalo’s 13.
“We’re just going to have to realize we’re not always going to be cute and pretty,” said Miller, who finished with 23 saves. “We have to be ugly and we have to play defence.”
Notes: New Jersey RW Cam Janssen returned from his three-game suspension and got into a fight with Buffalo tough guy Andrew Peters early in the first period. … The teams meet for the final time this season on March 28 in Buffalo. … The Sabres completed a stretch in which they played 10 of 13 games at home. They begin a four-game road trip on Tuesday at Pittsburgh. … Briere became the first Sabres player since Pat LaFontaine in 1995-96 to reach 80 points. LaFontaine had 91 points that season.