Leafs down Sabres, keep hopes alive

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres with teammates....

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres with teammates. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:25 PM ET

TORONTO - They came waving white towels, but not in surrender.

Nor were they using them to wipe away tears of sympathy.

No, those in the capacity crowd at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, much like the team they cheer for, were not about to give up, no matter how much the odds were against them.

And, for one more night, the impossible dream of the 2010-11 Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans lives on.

A dream, according to goalie James Reimer, is not about to die.

“We have a playoff team in this room,” the rookie goaltender confidently proclaimed after the Maple Leafs huge 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. “Playoff teams fight through adversity.

“It would be a crying shame if we didn’t make the playoffs because we could do some real damage if we got in.”

Such swagger from someone so young? That’s not a bad thing, especially since he and his teammates have been walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

With a loss to the eighth-place Sabres almost assuredly ending the already-flickering Maple Leaf playoff hopes, Reimer, Dion Phaneuf, Nazem Kadri, Mikael Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur helped Toronto’s post-season aspirations live for yet another day.

In the end, Toronto’s victory over the Sabres allowed them to pull within five points of Buffalo, the team that holds the final playoff spot in the eastern conference. The Sabres do hold a game in hand, which they will make up on Wednesday night against the New York Rangers at the HSBC Arena.

As for the Leafs, they have just five games left on their schedule.

After road dates in Boston on Thursday and Ottawa on Saturday, the Leafs return home to take on Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on April 5. They travel to Newark to face the New Jersey Devils one night later before ending the regular season against the rival Montreal Canadiens at the ACC on April 9.

Do you believe in miracles?

These young Leafs certainly do.

Think about it. It would have been so easy for them to fold.

First, they allowed a goal with just 11.6 seconds remaining in their first period, allowing Buffalo to narrow the Toronto lead to 2-1.

Surrendering a goal in the final minute usually is a recipe for disaster.

So, to, is allowing a pair in 30 seconds, which they did midway through the second period. Indeed, in the span of half a minute, they saw a 3-1 lead slip away.

“A team with less character than ours would have crumbled,” Reimer said.

Instead, this Leaf squad responded by punching back, thanks to Mikhail Grabovski’s 29th of the season that proved to be the game winner.

MacArthur, Phaneuf and Darryl Boyce scored the other Leaf goals, while rookie Nazem Kadri turned in his best game in a Toronto uniform with two assists.

“It was sweet scoring against your former club, I won’t lie about that,” MacArthur said. “We just have to keep winning. That’s all we can do.”

Perhaps these young Leafs will do do just that, especially after beating former Leaf Killer Ryan Miller for a third consecutive time.

Remember Toronto’s come-from behind 4-3 victory over the Sabres back on March 12? Third-period goals by Grabovski and Phil Kessel erased a 3-2 Buffalo lead and, in the process, gave the Leafs confidence that they can overcome the dominance of the Sabres goalie, who entered that game with a lifetime record of 24-9-0, 2.18 goals-against average and .931 save percentage versus Toronto.

History would repeat itself on Tuesday night against Miller, who was coming off NHL first star of the week honours.

In fact, when Grabovski scored the winner against Miller with just under seven minutes to go in the second, it was Toronto’s eighth goal in its previous 50 shots against the defending Vezina winner.

After seeing that, you’d almost believe anything right now.

These young Leafs certainly do.


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