Daniel Briere is one reason why the Buffalo Sabres lead the Eastern Conference, but he's had trouble helping them beat Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils consistently.
Briere leads Buffalo (48-20-7) into its final regular-season matchup against Brodeur and New Jersey on Wednesday night at HSBC Arena.
All three games in the season series have been decided in regulation by 3-2 scores, with the Devils (45-23-8) winning two of them. New Jersey is tied with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead, but has a game in hand on the idle Penguins.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have 103 points this season, leaving them two points behind Nashville in the race for the President's Trophy. Buffalo has played two fewer games than the Predators.
The Sabres need the diminutive Briere to try and move them back atop the league standings. Buffalo picked him up in a trade from Phoenix in March 2003 for forward Chris Gratton and a draft pick. Though listed at only 5-foot-9, Briere has been Buffalo's best offensive player since then, recording 91 goals and 133 assists in 218 regular-season games.
In 10 games versus the Devils since the trade, though, Briere has managed only four goals and seven points as the Sabres have gone 2-6-0 with two ties.
Briere needs one goal to match his career-high of 32 - set with the Coyotes in 2001-02 - and his next point will make him the first Buffalo player in 11 seasons with 90. Pat LaFontaine had 91 points in 1995-96.
Briere was held without a point Saturday, and the Sabres settled for a split of their home-and-home series with Toronto after a 4-1 loss. He had a goal and an assist Friday, when Buffalo scored four goals less than 9 minutes apart in the third period to rally for a 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs.
"There were some parts of our game I was embarrassed about," an upset coach Lindy Ruff said Monday after a grueling 90-minute practice. "We're not going to hide from it. We're not happy with the way we played."
One player who took part in the practice was right wing Ales Kotalik, who is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday after missing 16 games with an injured right knee. Kotalik, who hasn't played since Feb. 17, has 14 goals and 36 points in 59 games.
New Jersey is coming off another postseason-clinching win thanks to Brodeur, who reached another milestone. He made 23 saves for his career-high 44th win in a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, giving the Devils their 10th straight playoff berth.
Brodeur is the fourth goaltender in NHL history with 44 wins in a season, joining Philadelphia's Bernie Parent and Detroit's Terry Sawchuk. Vancouver's Roberto Luongo also posted his 44th win later Thursday night. Parent holds the single-season record with 47 wins in 1973-74.
"It's great anytime you beat your own record," said Brodeur, who's twice had 43 victories. "It's a lot of wins for one season."
Since Briere's arrival in Buffalo more than four years ago, Brodeur is 7-2-0 with a tie and a 2.08 goals-against average when facing the Sabres.
Brodeur also is 12-5-0 with three ties and a 2.51 GAA in his career at Buffalo, but has never posted a shutout there. He leads the league with a career-high 12 shutouts this season and is third all-time with 92 - two shy of tying George Hainsworth for second.
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