The Buffalo Sabres' once-promising season took a turn for the worse in mid-February while the New Jersey Devils' campaign derailed considerably earlier than that.
The two struggling Eastern Conference teams bid for an elusive win at the other's expense on Monday in Newark, N.J.
Buffalo officially was eliminated from postseason contention Saturday after sustaining its 15th defeat in 18 games (3-13-2) with a 7-4 setback in Montreal.
"It's been a long year," captain Jack Eichel said. "These same issues seem to continue to haunt us. We have to be better these next few games. There's still a lot of pride on the line. We represent our city, this organization. That should be enough right there. We should play for each other more."
Eichel scored his career-high 26th goal on Saturday and set up Alexander Nylander's power-play tally to boost his team-leading totals in assists (49) and points (75). Eichel is one goal shy of 100 for his career.
Sam Reinhart's first-period goal gave him a personal-best 60 points this season and 200 for his career.
"It's not an easy situation to be in," the 23-year-old Reinhart said. "When you go through a couple years of it and they start adding up, it just adds to the frustration. When we do have a little bit of success at the start of the year, it makes it that much more difficult to lose, really.
"We've got to find a way to stick together and start playing for one another down the stretch here."
Reinhart scored his team's lone goal in a 4-1 setback in New Jersey on Feb. 17, a loss that put the wheels in motion as the Sabres began to tumble down the standings.
The Devils, who have long been in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, had lost 10 of 12 (2-9-1) before posting a 2-1 shootout victory over Arizona on Saturday.
Former Sabres forward Drew Stafford has scored in back-to-back games to double his season output for New Jersey.
Mackenzie Blackwood turned aside 23 of 24 shots to improve to 2-1-0 in his last three starts after getting scorched for nine goals against Calgary on March 12.
"(Blackwood is) such a big kid. He's athletic, it's difficult. You have to make a great move or a great shot to beat him," Devils coach John Hynes told NJ.com of the 6-foot-4, 225-pound goalie.
"The more and more opportunity he gets to play at this level, the more overtime situations or shootout situations, all that is going to be tremendous experience for him moving forward."
Although Blake Coleman converted in the fifth round of the shootout on Saturday, he has just five points (three goals, two assists) in his last 23 games. The 27-year-old, however, did score his team's lone goal in a 5-1 setback in Buffalo on Jan. 8.
Kyle Palmieri, who lead the Devils in goals (27) and points (50), collected a goal and two assists in last month's meeting with the Sabres.
--Field Level Media
Devils, Sabres finishing up frustrating seasons
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