Remember those days when the Buffalo Sabres held the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ number?
Well, those days appear to be gone.
The Sabres turned the puck over early and often, and fell to the Leafs for the third straight time this season. losing 4-3 once again in Air Canada Center. Toronto held two-goal leads twice in the game. Toronto took a 2-0 lead off two pretty goals, the first a rocket from the blue line from captain Dion Phaneuf that beat Ryan Miller high on the glove side, and the second a tap-in from Darryl Boyce after a good offensive possession. Thomas Vanek then cut the Leafs’ lead to 2-1 right before the first period concluded and figured to give Buffalo some momentum going into the second. However, the Leafs would answer back again with a third goal, this one from Clarke MacArthur, a former Buffalo Sabre. With another two-goal lead, this time 3-1 and midway through the second, Toronto seemed to have taken control of the hockey game. That would prove untrue though, as the Sabres scored two goals within a minute of one another: Jason Pominville scored first on a Buffalo rush, and then Rob Niedermayer capitalized on a rare Leafs turnover deep in their own zone. Just like that, the game was tied 3-3 and the momentum had shifted to the Sabres.
That momentum wouldn’t last long, however. Toronto used their timeout right after Buffalo’s tying goal, and not long after took the lead on a hard snapshot from Mikhail Grabovski directly in front of the net. The shot was just a little too strong for Miller to save and trickled in underneath him, giving the Leafs a 4-3 lead. This goal late in the 2nd period proved to be the deciding goal, as the third period was a scoreless affair. Both teams had chances, including several opportunities for the Sabres late, but couldn’t find the net. The game was very similar to a few weeks ago when Toronto beat Buffalo by the exact same score, 4-3, in the same building.
For whatever reason, the Sabres no longer can seem to beat the Maple Leafs. History doesn’t seem to affect these Leafs, who have come a long way since the all-star break but are likely still going to miss the playoffs. The win, albeit barely, kept Toronto alive in the East. They’ll need to win nearly all of their remaining games to have a shot. Buffalo, on the other hand, has a game tonight back home against the New York Rangers – a team who’s won seven of their last eight games - that they need to win to remain serious about the playoffs. Mathematically, it’s not a must-win, but the Sabres really can’t afford to lose back-to-back games. Also, the Carolina Hurricanes‘ shootout win last night means that they’ve closed the gap back to 3 points in the East. A Buffalo loss could jeopardize the hold the Sabres have on that 8th spot.
Updated NHL Standings can be found here.