The New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres are both assured of opening a first-round playoff series at home later this week. The chance to open a potential Eastern Conference semifinals series on home ice, however, is still up for grabs.
Separated by just one point, the Devils and Sabres meet Sunday at the Prudential Center with second place in the East on the line.
Heading into the final game of the regular season, Atlantic Division champion New Jersey (47-27-7) is in second in the conference with 101 points, just ahead of Northeast-winning Buffalo.
The Devils can remain in that position by earning at least one point, but would switch places with the Sabres (45-26-10) with a regulation loss. The advantage of clinching the second seed means automatic home-ice advantage in a possible semifinals series.
"It gives you the opportunity, if you pass the first round, to be home again," said New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur. "It's always important to have as many games as possible in your own building. You play all year to position yourself. It's available to us with a win."
The Devils are 26-10-4 at home this season, while the Sabres are 20-16-4 on the road.
These teams haven't met since the Sabres' 2-1 shootout win on Jan. 27 in Buffalo. The Sabres are 2-1-0 against the Devils this season, and has outscored New Jersey 10-3 in winning all three meetings at the Prudential Center since it opened last season.
Brodeur has been started all three games against the Sabres this season, going 1-1-1 with a 1.62 goals-against average and one shutout.
Buffalo's Ryan Miller has also been between the pipes for all three meetings, posting a 1.62 GAA. He is 2-0-2 with a 0.72 GAA and one shutout in his last four games in New Jersey.
Both teams enter this crucial game off impressive showings.
New Jersey defeated the New York Islanders 7-1 on Saturday to clinch the Atlantic for the second straight season and fourth time in five years. Patrik Elias scored twice and Travis Zajac matched his career high with three assists in the Devils' biggest offensive output of the season and largest margin of victory.
"It was nice to get a lot of scoring from a lot of different people," said Zach Parise, who added his team-leading 38th goal. "All the lines played well, generating offense. Everyone knows, if you want to go far in the playoffs, that's what you need."
That was more than enough for Brodeur, as he stopped 18 shots to notch the 601st victory of his career. The future Hall of Famer is 3-1-2 with a 0.98 GAA and two shutouts in six games since March 30.
Buffalo defeated Ottawa 5-2 on Saturday behind a career-best four goals from Thomas Vanek, who returned after sitting out six games with a lower body injury.
"It was a good game for us overall and it's nice for me to be back and capitalize on my opportunities," said Vanek, who moved past two teammates and now leads the team with 27 goals.
Miller turned away 28 shots to win his 41st game, breaking the franchise record for single-season victories he set in 2006-07.
"That was a good example of the way we can play," Miller said. "It was important for us to get this win."