Heartbreaker for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

BUFFALO -- On the eve of American Thanksgiving, the Maple Leafs and Sabres gorged themselves on power plays, then engaged in a mighty struggle for the wishbone.

It snapped 7-4 in Buffalo's favour, but not before the Leafs took another step in de-mystifying HSBC Arena's grip on their collective psyche.

But having lost once here this month to the Leafs already and knowing another would cut their conference lead on the Leafs to five points, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff made sure his team was battle ready.

"You look at the standings and it's a big swing," a relieved Ruff said afterward.

Toronto fought back from a 4-2 deficit to tie in the third, before Andrew Raycroft, and his defence crossed wires with 5:19 to play, leading to a giveaway goal to Daniel Briere and then two empty netters.

"I obviously didn't want to put it right on their stick, but down 4-2 against the best team in the league we made a game of it," Raycroft said. "We play like that every night, we'll win more than we lose."

There were 15 power plays, eight for the Sabres, seven to the Leafs and the teams split four goals. Referees Brad Meier and Dean Morton were giving no quarter where the statute on hooking was concerned, calling it 10 times, even when no foul was evident.

The Leafs made good use of three consecutive Sabres' minors, leading to 5-on-3 goals by Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood four minutes in. But in the spirit of the season, no one went away hungry as the Leafs were slapped with three calls in the same period, a stepping stone to four Buffalo goals.

"Both teams had to battle adversity and it turned into a hell of a game," Ruff said.

The Leafs and Sabres set some kind of record for puzzled looks and waving arms in disgust at the referees.

"That didn't look like hockey at times, it looked like a special teams practice," Leafs winger Jeff O'Neill said. "We got up 2-0 and it was just make-up calls."

Toronto coach Paul Maurice carefully manouvred around the same question.

"I thought both teams did a good job mentally handling things they had to handle," he said. "But we came in here without our big guy (Mats Sundin), got down and battled back like SOB's. I'll take that game over (Monday's win against the Islanders).

"There was a lot of cursing and swearing on the bench and that's usually an indication of the intensity level."

Buoyed by many Leafs fans among the sellout of 18,690, and with help from an own goal from Michael Ryan (credited to O'Neill), plus Tucker's 15th, the Leafs pulled even 4-4.

"The Sabres know we have a different team and a different mentality in here," Kaberle said. "They're feeling us a lot more than before."

However, they still have lost 48 times in 75 games on this side of the Peace Bridge. Maurice stayed in Raycroft's corner.

A BAD BREAK

"I told him not to throw himself under the bus," Maurice said. "It was a bad break but we have a number of wins because we didn't have bad breaks and he made great plays."

The magical Maxim Afinogenov, a handful for the Leafs all night, was held to a goal and assist.

Briere had two goals, Brian Campbell and Jiri Novotny one each, with Jason Pominville and Chris Drury getting short-handed empty netters. That put Buffalo over 100 goals just 22 games into the season.

With an eye to Sundin's return, the Leafs made no lineup changes from Monday's win, meaning another chance for winger Alex Suglobov to make a statement on a line with John Pohl and Chad Kilger. He played 6:12, but didn't stand out.


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