|Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and defenceman Luke Schenn defend the net Friday in Buffalo. (REUTERS/Gary Wiepert)
BUFFALO -- The Maple Leafs have the Monster on Halloween and, after a month of frustration, a bit of a pulse.
The Leafs' inability to finish last night in an overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres likely haunted them during their flight to Montreal. But when they clash with the Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre, they will do so with a sense of confidence.
Though Toronto fell to 1-7-3 when Tim Connolly ripped a shot over the shoulder of rookie netminder Jonas Gustavsson at 1:04 of overtime for a 3-2 Sabres victory at HSBC Arena, the Leafs weren't completely discouraged.
"Nobody can say we are not playing well and not giving 100%," coach Ron Wilson said. "We've got points in the last three games, and I thought we deserved both points (last night).
"Help is on the way with Phil (Kessel) coming back next week. Maybe a lot of those chances that we created, he will be able to bury a few."
With just 37.3 seconds remaining in regulation -- and with Matt Stajan in the penalty box serving an interference minor -- the Leafs tied the game. The crafty Mikhail Grabovski got his stick on a high point shot by Tomas Kaberle and deflected it past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
But Stajan, who was whistled for interference when he ran into Clarke MacArthur, was still in the box when Connolly scored his second goal of the game. Stajan was of the mind that the Sabres forward gave the referees little choice but to call a penalty.
"We ran into each other," Stajan said. "I just think if you call that, you have to call a dive. He definitely saw me coming and embellished it. He went flying and I don't know how that happened."
Drew Stafford scored a power-play goal in the first period for the Sabres, which Ian White answered a few minutes later with a slap shot from the point that eluded Miller. Connolly, after a Niklas Hagman giveaway, scored on a breakaway during the second period to give the home side a 2-1 lead.
Thank goodness for the play of Gustavsson, who continued to solidify his hold on the No. 1 job in his third consecutive start. Gustavsson made a number of large saves in the second period to give his teammates a fighting chance in the third. But his strong outing did not translate into a bushel of goals at the other end of the ice.
Toronto's offence, which has produced just 26 goals in 11 games, could have fired all night and not had much success with Miller, who entered the game with the best save percentage and goals-against average in the NHL. Miller's toughest stop was thwarting Lee Stempniak on a breakaway in the second period.
The Leafs outshot the Sabres 13-1 in the first 10 minutes of the third period but did not score. Miller stoned Stempniak with a pad save for his best stop in that span. And Alexei Ponikarovsky rang a shot off the post.
While the effort was there for the Leafs, who have a win, a loss and two overtime losses in their first four games of a trip that ends tonight, there were some hiccups, and they're still in last place in the NHL. The club was too sloppy in the middle period, forcing Gustavsson to stare down the Sabres on three breakaways. The 25-year-old stopped Mike Grier and MacArthur before Connolly beat him.
"We played a very good Buffalo team at home and they have been off to a hot start, whereas we are trying to build chemistry and confidence," Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek said. "There are a lot of positives, the way we have played the past few games. If we keep doing it, we're definitely going to win."