Devils clinch home-ice for playoffs; end Sabres hopes

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Tomas Tatar had two goals and an assist and the New Jersey Devils clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs and ended Buffalo’s postseason hopes with a 6-2 victory over the Sabres on Tuesday night.

Jack Hughes scored a late empty-net goal for his 97th point this season, breaking the franchise record of 96 set by Patrik Elias in 2000-2001.

Jesper Boqvist, Jonas Siegenthaler and Miles Wood also scored as the Devils got big games from their role players in tying their franchise record with their 51st win. Vitek Vanecek made 36 saves in handing the Buffalo only its second regulation loss (7-2-1) in 10 games.

Jeff Skinner and Mattias Samuelsson scored for the Sabres, whose late run wasn’t enough to earn the franchise its first playoff berth since 2011. The 12-year run is the NHL’s current longest postseason drought. Emerging 21-year-old star Devon Levi made 24 saves in losing for the second time in six starts.

The game also marked the NHL debut of defenseman Luke Hughes, the younger brother of star center Jack Hughes. He was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft and signed last weekend after his season at Michigan ended in the Final Four.

New Jersey never trailed leading 1-0 after the first and 3-1 after the second.

Boqvist scored the only goal in the opening period with a shot from the left circle that deflected off the skate of Buffalo defenseman Henri Jokiharju into the net.

Siegenthaler scored on a counter attack early in the middle period on a nice pass from Nico Hischier.

After Skinner got his 34th of the season off a nice assist by Casey Mittelstadt to cut the lead in half, Wood ended a 14-game goal drought by collecting a rebound that bounced around the crease and beating Levi.

Tatar stretched the lead to 4-1 seven minutes into the third period. Samuelsson got his second goal of the season with 6:45 to play. Tatar and Jack Hughes each had empty net goals.

NOTES: Luke Hughes saw limited action as coach Lindy Ruff dressed seven defensemen. … The Devils/Rockies franchise has had two previous sets of brothers play for the team. Patrik and Peter Sundstrom played for New Jersey in 1989-90, while Bob and Paul Miller played for Colorado in 1981-82. … Devils C Michael McLeod did not dress for the first time this season. … New Jersey has four players who have played in every game — Tatar, Dawson Mercer, Dougie Hamilton and Jesper Bratt. … Mittelstadt had points in four straight games.