Though it's often difficult to put much stock into strong late-season results from a team eliminated from playoff contention, the Buffalo Sabres' surge seems very promising for 2016-17 and beyond.
The New Jersey Devils don't appear nearly as inspired as they play out the string.
The Sabres look to win their third straight and end a five-game losing streak against the Devils as the teams close out their season series Tuesday night.
Buffalo denied the New York Rangers a chance to clinch a playoff berth Saturday, holding on to win 4-3 after taking a 3-0 lead and chasing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist early in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly scored twice and Chad Johnson stopped 15 of 16 shots faced in the third for Buffalo, 6-2-2 in its last 10.
The Sabres (33-35-11) neutralized a late two-man, two-minute disadvantage with New York looking for the equalizer. They've killed off 24 of the last 25 power plays faced.
"We're doing everything," said Johnson, who had 33 saves and is expected to make his ninth straight start Tuesday. "We're trying to be spoiler, we're just trying to play our game. We had a tough start and we are just jelling as a group now.
"You're starting to see it all come together, the chemistry, the compete we have. It doesn't matter where you are in the standings. You want to win."
O'Reilly has three goals and three assists in a four-game point streak for Buffalo, which has made a 10-win improvement - and counting - from last season. He's recorded three goals and six assists in nine contests since returning from a lower-body injury that kept him out 11 games.
O'Reilly became the fourth Sabres player with 20 goals this season, joining fellow 20-somethings Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart and 19-year-old Jack Eichel. It's the first time Buffalo has had four 20-goal scorers age 25 or younger since 1987-88.
"We made our chances and we buried them early," O'Reilly said. "(Johnson) is one of the best goalies in the league. For us to do that, it gives confidence to our offense."
The Sabres will need it against the Devils (37-34-8), who have outscored Buffalo 15-6 in winning the last five meetings. Cory Schneider made 25 saves in the most recent one, a 2-0 victory at Buffalo on Dec. 15.
New Jersey has won four in a row at home in the series and gone 5-0-2 in the previous seven matchups there.
Schneider made 33 saves in his return from a sprained knee that kept him out 11 games but suffered his fifth straight loss and eighth in nine starts Saturday, 3-1 to Tampa Bay. The Devils have dropped four of five.
"I thought he came back and played well," coach John Hynes said.
New Jersey has averaged 1.40 goals in the past five games and is in danger of finishing last in the league with a 2.20 season mark. Adam Henrique scored his 28th on Saturday, but leading goal scorer Kyle Palmieri (29) has gone five in a row without one.
Four of the Devils' last five goals have come on the power play over the past three games.