Leafs fired up for Buffalo

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET

BUFFALO -- Hours before the Maple Leafs skated on to a rink where they have had little success in 10 years, captain Mats Sundin sounded like there was nowhere else he wanted to play.

Sundin had said he was excited about the challenge of performing well in a building where the Leafs had won four times in 22 previous matches. Then the big Swede led his team to a stunning win that came with a dominance that, to say the least, was unexpected.

Sundin scored two goals and had an assist as the Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 at HSBC Arena, ending a Sabres streak of 17 regular-season games, dating to the spring without a loss in regulation. Buffalo was 11-0-1 to start this season after winning its final five matches in 2005-06.

"Was he ever good," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said of Sundin. "The coaches' room is inside the locker room and you can hear him talking. He said all the things you are hoping your players are thinking about before the game. He goes out there and shows it."

Sundin was just part of the total domination the Leafs had. Maurice has taught an attacking style that is more up-tempo than what the Leafs have done in the past, but even he could not have predicted this. The Leafs' pressure was too much for the Sabres defence to handle. At the other end, the Leafs defence corps was smart and simple, negating the quickness the Sabres have exhibited so far.

Darcy Tucker and Jeff O'Neill also scored for the Leafs, who got 29 saves from Andrew Raycroft. Defenceman Ian White played his best game in the NHL. Jochen Hecht gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead. Ryan Miller made 29 stops.

The Leafs scored three goals in span of less than four minutes in the second period to blow the game open.

Winning handily in a rink where they were 0-4 last season and outscored 20-5 can only be good for the overall psyche.

"Ihope so," Tucker said. "I hope it gives us an opportunity to be a better hockey club. There are always turning points in a season and things that make a team confident."

It's obvious Sundin is thriving on the increased ice time he has been given by Maurice (although his time last night of 19 minutes 39 seconds was less than his season average).

"That's how a coach shows you that he likes what you are doing," Sundin said. "I am very pleased with the ice time and it gives you more confidence to make plays out there.

"We are still looking for an identity and consistency to be a good team and I thought we were a good team (last night). It has been up and down a bit. Hopefully, it is a step in the right direction for our club."

The Leafs caught a break when Maxim Afinogenov left in the first period with an upper-body injury after he was checked by Wade Belak. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Afinogenov, the Sabres' leading scorer, will be out "a while."

Of the loss as a whole, the Sabres' Paul Gaustad said: "That stings a little. It's not easy to swallow. I hate losing at home, especially against these guys."

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REPORT CARD

A Forwards: So good were the Leafs they had more than a few scoring chances when they were short-handed.

A Defence: Solid outlet passes, closing the gaps, taking the body -- the group aced the cliches the coaching staff spouts.

A Goaltending: Andrew Raycroft made some big saves when he had to, but to tell the truth, it was not a tough night for him.


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