Razor cuts through Leafs' HSBC jinx

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

BUFFALO -- The knock against goalie Andrew Raycroft is that he hasn't stolen enough wins for the Maple Leafs.

But start him at HSBC Arena and it's a break-and-enter felony. The bad luck plaguing the former No. 1 netminder often is reversed this side of the Peace Bridge and, considering how badly the Leafs have played here (23-49-7), he is worth keeping on the payroll for just such occasions.

Raycroft kept the Leafs in the game last night long enough for Bryan McCabe to exact revenge for his own-goal gaffe here last month and, just as important, for a Mats Sundin clincher that snuffed out an anticipated Sabres' rally and secured a 3-0 win.

Getting a start in place of Vesa Toskala, Raycroft made 30 saves -- 15 in the first period -- and now is 3-2-1 in his past six games at HSBC.

"Vesa has been playing great and there has been no reason to put me in," Raycroft said. "But at least this shows that I've been doing the right things in practice, trying to do my thing, day-to-day.

"I've been in the league four or five years (as a Bruin and a Leaf), so I've probably played here more than in any other building except Montreal. But it's easy to say you have a comfort level after a shutout (the sixth in his career)."

Raycroft had started only one other game since a decent performance here on Oct. 15. He made 37 saves in that bizarre 5-4 overtime loss when McCabe put the puck behind him on an errant clearing pass.

Raycroft's night last night was also an eventful one. A couple of posts helped his cause and twice he was laid out, the first occasion preceding a disallowed goal.

"You come in here knowing it can be an onslaught from (Buffalo) and sometimes we can't withstand it," said Darcy Tucker, who joined McCabe in returning to the lineup. "But we back-checked well and didn't allow them any rebounds on Andrew."

The line of Tucker, Mark Bell and Chad Kilger gives the Leafs four units capable of strong two-way play. The minimum ice time for the 12 Leafs forwards was Bell's 9:41.

"There's a big difference with four NHLers on your bench," coach Paul Maurice said. "We rolled four lines most of the time and the goalie was spectacular when he needed to be."

Boyd Devereaux scored the other Toronto goal in the final minute off a nice feed from Matt Stajan.

Now the Leafs have to apply the same effort tonight against the Rangers at the Air Canada Centre, with Toskala back in net. The Leafs have back-to-back wins just once this year.

"Tonight was just one game, but it's one game to build on," Tucker said. "Our consistency has to be better."

Mats Sundin figured in on the first two goals. He won a draw to McCabe in the last minute of the second period and his own five-hole goal on Ryan Miller in the third wound up sending hundreds of Leafs commuters home happy.

The Sabres have played with a lead for just 111/2 minutes of the past 12 games, part of the reason they are below .500 and trailing the Leafs in the standings.

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REPLAY

TURNING POINT

Defenceman Bryan McCabe helped his team and erased some personal demons with a late second-period goal, a one-timer off a faceoff that bounced off Paul Gaustad and behind Ryan Miller for what would be the game-winner.

STAR OF THE GAME

Captain Mats Sundin showed his teammates how it is done, winning a faceoff for the Leafs' first goal, then scoring on a partial breakaway.

GOTTA HURT

Mark Bell had to go to the dressing room when he blocked a puck on an exposed part of his kneecap. Andrew Raycroft also took one off the mask in the third that briefly stunned him.

OOPS

The Leafs had a spot of trouble with their one-on-one play against the speedy Sabres. In the first period, Derek Roy undressed Hal Gill to get a clean shot at Raycroft. In the second, Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell went head-to-head with consecutive Leafs forecheckers and deftly slipped past both to set up another good Buffalo scoring chance.

OOPS II

Pavel Kubina dumped a puck over the glass in a non-threatening situation to earn a delay-of-game call, then couldn't bury a breakaway when he came out of the box.


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