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Devils 6-0-4-1 in their last 11 games

4/6/2003

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Coach Pat Burns doesn't put much stock in
strong finishes translating into postseason success.

And that includes his New Jersey Devils, who wrapped up the
regular season with points in 11 straight games with a 2-2 tie
against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

"People always tend to think that it's very important the way
you finish the season,'' Burns said. "I don't really look into it
that much. I never have. I've seen teams get blown out in their
last three games and win Stanley Cups.''

The game had little impact on the standings as the Devils had
already clinched first-place in the Atlantic Division, and are
locked into opening the playoffs against the seventh-place Boston
Bruins. New Jersey finished on a 6-0-4-1 run.

The Sabres had been eliminated two weeks earlier, and were
intent on closing a tumultuous season on a strong note.

Patrik Elias, with the game-tying goal, and Grant Marshall
scored for the Devils, who finished with 108 points -- three short
of the franchise record set in the 2000-01 season. New Jersey also
equaled a franchise mark in allowing 166 goals, and finished in a
tie with Philadelphia for the fewest yielded in the NHL this
season.

Ales Kotalik and Alexei Zhitnik scored for the Sabres. Buffalo
finished 5-2-1 in its last eight games and 5-0-1 in its last six
home games.

Not bad for a team that played the season without an owner and
was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection -- joining
the Ottawa Senators -- last January. The Sabres are on the verge of
being sold to Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano.

Among his first decisions will be whether to rehire coach Lindy
Ruff, whose contract has expired, and whether to retain general
manager Darcy Regier. Regier's future in Buffalo remains uncertain
despite Golisano's intention to pick up the remaining four years of
his contract.

Golisano would only say that he plans to sit down with both Ruff
and Regier and announce a decision within days.

Ruff, who surpassed Scotty Bowman as the franchise's winningest
coach earlier this season, said he is interested in staying.

"I'm excited about sitting down and talking to him,'' Ruff
said. "We haven't had a lengthy conversation, and I'm looking
forward to that. But I've got no timetable.''

Elias tied it at 2 with a nifty move 13:44 into the second
period. Getting a loose puck in the corner, Elias burst to the
front of the net and, avoiding Mika Noronen's poke check, slipped
the puck under the goaltender.

After Marshall opened the scoring, the Sabres responded when
Kotalik and Zhitnik scored two minutes apart to put Buffalo ahead
by the 3:09 mark of the second period.

The Devils rallied despite resting four veterans: goaltender
Martin Brodeur, center Joe Nieuwendyk and defensemen Scott Stevens
and Scott Niedermayer.

"You want to feel good about your team and confident about your
individual play,'' Devils veteran Ken Daneyko said. "We've been
better the last month of the season, but the slate really is wiped
clean. It is a new season and hopefully we'll pick up where we left
off.''

Game notes
The Sabres honored their past by bringing back their still
popular blue and gold uniforms as a one-time promotion. It's the
first time the Sabres wore them since changing to their current red
and black colors in 1996. Sabres spokesman Michael Gilbert said the
players didn't learn of the change until 15 minutes before the
game. ... The Sabres established a franchise low in finishing the
season with 190 goals, eclipsing the previous mark of 203 in
1995-96. ... Daneyko, who's played 18 NHL seasons, favored the
Sabres' retro look. "I know everybody's into black and red these
days for merchandising, but I like the traditional Sabres
uniform,'' he said.