In what was a huge game for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, the boys in blue and white managed to fight through some adversity and hold off the Sabres for an inspiring 3-2 victory at the Air Canada Centre. Entering the game with only one point separating them in the standings (the Leafs held that small advantage), the picture became much different as the final buzzer sounded when the Leafs found themselves sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference while the Sabres fell to 11th.
Toronto came out on fire in the first period outshooting the Sabres 12-6 in the opening frame and dominating the play. Ryan Miller (who entered the game 25-11-0 in his career against the buds) was up to his old tricks as he completely stoned Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Matt Frattin to keep the game scoreless. Rookie Nazem Kadri was playing his first game of the season, and he looked great on a line with Clarke MacArthur (or Gark MaglArthur as Joe Bowen calls him) and Tim Connolly.
In the second period though the script had been apparently flipped. The Sabres (on the strength four straight penalties against the Leafs) turned the tables and peppered Leaf goalie James Reimer with 19 shots (he stopped forty in total on the night for the second consecutive game). Reimer though was up to the challenge as he continuously turned the Sabres aside. For the second straight game Reimer showed that he seems to have re-emerged as the goalie the Leafs need him to be. Buffalo did manage to take the lead as Jason Pominville banked a pass off of Luke Schenn and into the net on a two-man advantage. The Leafs though quickly answered. After failing to capitalize on a 5-3 of their own, David Steckel deposited a rebound past a prone Miller to tie the game. With the normally quiet ACC crowd still celebrating the Steckel goal, Joffrey Lupul hit a streaking Kessel and the Leafs top player finally beat his former Olympic teammate to give the Leafs the lead. The goals came a minute and two seconds apart and the Leafs were back in control of the game, thanks largely to Reimer.
The third period began with Derek Roy stripping Mikhail Grabovski, and beating a helpless Reimer to even the game. Despite this setback though the Leafs kept pressing. The motivated Leaf team was seemingly driven to avenge their loss to the Sabres last week. Just over five minutes into the third the aforementioned Kadri took a nice drop pass from MacArthur and wired a laser to the top shelf. It was the first goal of the season for the polarizing Kadri, and hopefully he can build off of this great moment. Despite the Sabres pressing (especially during a late power play), both Reimer and the Leafs stood tall. The win in regulation was a huge one for a sputtering Leafs team.
As mentioned above it was a big win for the Leafs in the standings, but also for a sputtering hockey team heading into the Christmas break. With nine of their first ten games in January at home ice, a victory at the ACC like tonight gives the young buds plenty of confidence heading into the new year.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Phil Kessel - The Leafs’ best player had a great night as his goal was his 20th of the season. He fired 10 shots at the Sabres net tonight, and his hustle was a big factor tonight specifically when he beat out a late icing as Miller was on the bench.
Sabres: Jason Pominville – the Sabres captain scored the first goal of the game off of a lucky bounce, and chipped the puck loose for Roy’s goal as well. Pominville also escaped a catastrophe as he escaped injury free in the second period as both Keith Aulie and Dion Phaneuf sandwiched him at centre ice.
Bowenism of the Night
Joe’s complete inability to distinguish between Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul was both hilarious and frustrating.
Next Game: The Leafs are in Long Island to take on the New York Islanders tonight.