Leafs get comeback win against Sabres
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Buffalo Sabres' Andrej Sekera can't get top the puckin front of Toronto Maple Leafs' James Reimer. (Mark O'Neill/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - For Sale: majority ownership of flagship National Hockey League franchise with dusty trophy case. Playoff revenue TBA.
On the night the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan got the ball rolling to move their 66% stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the Leafs showed they could buy a goal or two at the right time in a test of their playoff resolve.
Saturday's 4-3 win over Ryan Miller and Buffalo Sabres, the division foes who've caused Toronto more grief than any other in five years out of the playoffs, kept the Leafs in crowded contention in the Eastern Conference at least another few days. The eighth-place Sabres and Rangers (who had a late date in San Jose) are at 74 points and four other teams are within six, including the 10th-place Leafs.
With points in their 16th game of the past 20 (11-4-5), Toronto is still a player.
"We knew what was on the line," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We didn't have much option. We knew where they were in the standings and where we were."
The third-period rally, powered by goals from Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel, with James Reimer out-playing Miller in the final stages, was sparked by a loud dressing room during intermission.
"As a group, Dion was getting the guys fired up and Mike Komisarek and a lot of the veterans," Reimer said. "They were telling us from their past experiences what you have to do. Even (coach Ron Wilson) came in and lit a little fire under our tails. Sometimes periods don't go the way you want, but it's how you respond and we were lucky to do that with two big goals."
Wilson said his message was forceful, yet simple.
"We'd got outshot 20-12 in the second and didn't get in shooting lanes. If we're going to make the playoffs when we talk about being committed, that's not exactly the way to show it. So we had a period to show we were serious about the playoffs. We came out gunning and got them on their heels. They looked tired and they should of, because they've been on the road two weeks (4-1-1 before Saturday) and we took advantage.
"We've been through a lot all season and had ups and downs, but you can't give up."
Miller was 24-9 against the Leafs coming in, his most wins against any franchise, while the Sabres needed a W to go 30-10-1 versus the blue and white since the lockout. Reimer was making his 11th straight start, almost all facing between 30 and 40 shots. His late-game back-to-back stops on Tomas Vanek and ex-Leaf Brad Boyes highlighted 39 saves, including a second-period Vanek breakaway.
"A long stretch like this, you think: 'Is tonight the night he wears down a bit?', " Wilson pondered. "And he's had a couple of nights where he hasn't been sharp as before. But you can't expect a goalie to be perfect every night."
The second period saw one of the most eventful shifts of the season, starting with a hard drive that stung Reimer in the shoulder. The Leafs couldn't clear, despite their goalie flinching in pain.
Then came two or three heavy hits in the corner that resulted in Leafs centre Tim Brent getting an accidental stick in the eye. With a dazed Brent taking the long way to the bench, Tyler Bozak hopped on undetected for a beautiful breakaway pass from Phaneuf. Miller outwaited him on the deke and Bozak crashed into the end boards, but again emerged behind the play when a Buffalo clearing pass struck an official's skate.
"It would have been a long night if I'd missed that second opportunity," Bozak said. "Things haven't gone my way the whole year. But we're still in this thing, so you don't silk and get down on yourself. Everyone believes in here."
Wilson said he gave Brent a stern lecture about not wearing a visor and said there is swelling in the eye and his vision is light sensitive. He might not play Monday when the three-game ACC homestand wraps up against Tampa Bay. It was only Bozak's fourth goal since New Year's Day, but the lead didn't last a full minute as Jochen Hecht banged in a rebound and Jordan Leopold followed with Mikhail Grabovski in the box.
For the sixth game in a row the Leafs gave up the first goal, looking far too jumpy for such a big game. On Mike Weber's first shot of the night Reimer was screened. Toronto's power play dipped to 1-for 28 the past seven games when it wasted two chances. The re-constituted line of Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Grabovski hooked up for the first goal, ex-Sabre MacArthur's long-awaited 20th, with Phaneuf fishing out the souvenir puck.