Sabres rally to edge Leafs in shootout

Toronto Maple Leafs' Luke Schenn takes out Buffalo Sabres' Derek Roy.   (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

Toronto Maple Leafs' Luke Schenn takes out Buffalo Sabres' Derek Roy. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:05 PM ET

This Hall of Fame Game certainly won’t be confused with Red Army-Canadiens from New Year’s Eve 1975.

The Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres, playing like two teams with a combined nine-game losing streak, played loose enough to prevent the other from pulling away and then still unable to determine who wanted it, they dragged the Air Canada Centre through overtime and a shootout.

With several of the sport’s giants and the five 2010 inductees looking on, Tyler Ennis scored in the fifth round of the shootout for a 3-2 win that extended Toronto’s losing streak to five.

With Jhonas Enroth on the bench and less than 14 seconds to play, the Sabres’ Jochen Hecht got loose on the short side to bang a shot through the short side on Jean Sebastien Giguere and the Sabres forced overtime.

It overshadowed a good game by Russian-speaking linemates Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, who’ve have had little good to say in any language about their offence this season.

That changed on Saturday night when they combined for three points.

Grabovski and Kulemin were badly in need of help from any source when the burden of scoring fell too heavily upon Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur, then especially after those two dried up as well. On Saturday, Grabovski ended a 21-game slump with the game-opening goal and later set up Kulemin for his third in as many games. It was also the first time since last March 13, that Grabovski and Kulemin have scored in the same contest.

Their play, and Toronto’s 3-for-3 penalty killing, was the story early in the game in which new inductees Dino Ciccarelli, Angela James, Cammi Granato, Jim Devellano and the late Daryl (Doc) Seaman were honoured.

Ron Wilson’s faith in players such as Grabovski is often unrewarded, but the coach made a huge fuss before Saturday about his team-leading plus-minus (now up to plus-9) as proof he was making positive contributions during the slump.

Toronto had its big break before the game even started when Enroth was standing in the crease instead of lean grim reaper goalkeeper Ryan Miller. The latter is padding his own Hall future with a 22-8 record against Toronto, his best record against any team, with Buffalo winning nine of the past 10 overall. But Miller remains gritting his teeth on the sidelines after a lower body injury — a knee strain is the newest info — that will keep him out until at least Wednesday.

That’s the night in New Jersey that Lindy Ruff will coach his 1,000th regular-season game. And in another 14 he would pass Billy Reay for the second-most games with one team. Ruff’s 13-year streak in Buffalo is still likely to be safer than Devils’ John MacLean, whose awful team was a point up on Ruff’s before Saturday night.

Enroth kept his team in the game, so it wasn’t lights out after Kulemin’s goal made it 2-0. Enroth made a stop on Mike Brown on a 2-on-1 late in the second just prior to Derek Roy knocking in a rebound with Toronto’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere down and out.

After Fredrik Sjostrom just missed stripping a wandering Enroth of the puck on a short-handed goal and MacArthur missed two great chances to beat his old team, Grabovski emerged from the cold. After so many good looks this year and last, he ended the slide on a broken play after Rob Niedermayer’s stick broke and Jordan Leopold dumped a soft pass up the boards that Tomas Kaberle picked off. Grabovski fired it at the net and Enroth was partially screened by Kulemin, giving Grabovski his first goal since an overtime winner in Atlanta on March 25.

Roy lost his stick on the play that led to Kulemin’s goal, with Grabovski keeping it alive and passing to his pal, who used a pinching Kaberle as a decoy.

Korbinian Holzer made his NHL debut on defence with Brett Lebda as the five-six pairing and the 6-foot-3 German got to test his size against the big boys.


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