Sticking it to Sabres

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Local boy Lee Stempniak certainly made his presence felt at HSBC Arena last night in a 2-1 Maple Leafs victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Playing on a line with rookies Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, Stempniak played his best game since being acquired by the Leafs on Nov. 24 for Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo.

The Buffalo native assisted on Ian White's winning goal, a harmless shot that skipped off the ice before bouncing over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller's shoulder, late in the third period, dished out some major hits and took a four-minute high-sticking penalty late in the second. OK, not everything he did was positive, but the effort surely was there.

"It's exciting, but it sort of boils down to just another game," said Stempniak of his homecoming. "But it's always special to know that your parents are here and there's a lot of friends and family watching."

The victory, in front 18,211 fans at HSBC, many dressed in the blue and white, marked the Leafs' second win in a row and ended a three-game winning streak by the Sabres.

Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala continued his solid play of late, making 24 saves for the win, while a pair of recent callups, winger Jeremy Williams, who scored the tying goal for Toronto late in the second, and defenceman Jamie Sifers, who played a strong, physical game, also contributed to the win.

The Sabres jumped ahead 1-0 at 6:02 of the first on Toni Lydman's first goal of the season. The Buffalo defenceman appeared to use Toronto defenceman Pavel Kubina as a screen to beat Toskala. On the play, Kubina's defensive partner Tomas Kaberle was out of position, electing to remain up on the blue line as the Sabres rushed into the Leafs' zone. Kaberle's play of late can best be described as inconsistent. Shortly after, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller stopped Grabovski on a breakaway.

The Leafs gave up no fewer than five two-on-ones in the first period, including two while on the power play. On the final one, Toskala slid across the net to rob Ales Kotalik of a sure goal with a pad save.

"I didn't like those two-on-ones, it looked like practice," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "If they had scored two out of the five, you're down 2-0 and you're probably not going to come back in this league."

The Sabres opened the second with, surprise, a two-on-one, while killing a Lydman penalty for high sticking. With six minutes left, the Sabres had yet another two-on-one, with Toskala making a fine pad save on Maxim Afinogenov to keep the score 1-0.

With just over two minutes remaining in the second, Williams jumped on the ice, took a pass from Kubina on the left side, and beat Miller to the glove side to tie it 1-1.

"The chances are going in," said Williams, who also scored in a 4-2 win on Monday over the New York Islanders in his first game with the Leafs this season. "Our line is working so well together. We're getting pucks to the net and we're buzzing around and winning our battles."

Stempniak took the four-minute high-sticking penalty with 10 seconds left in the second when he cut Buffalo defenceman Andrej Sekera in an attempt to lift his stick.

"I was just trying to strip him of the puck and get that last chance with 10 seconds left, and he went down," Stempniak said. "Fortunately, we did a great job killing it."

The Leafs killed that to start the third and also a hooking penalty to Jeff Finger early in the final frame. Buffalo's Drew Stafford missed a wide open net on the ensuing power play. Miller than made a good save to stop Nik Antropov on a partial breakaway. And then with 7:56 left, White threw a weak shot from the point that bounced towards the net and beat Miller, to put Toronto ahead for good.

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REPLAY

CHASING HISTORY

The Buffalo Sabres entered last night's game with 9,998 goals in franchise history since 1970-71. Interestingly, the Sabres' 9,000th goal, scored on Feb. 14, 2004 by J.P. Dumont, also was scored against the Leafs, and goaltender Trevor Kidd. Buffalo's 5,000th franchise goal, scored by Doug Smith on Nov. 15, 1987, came against the Leafs and goaltender Ken Wregget.

REVOLVING DOOR

Maple Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn played last night, his first action since being injured on Nov. 8 at the Air Canada Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.

Niklas Hagman, who suffered a concussion in Toronto's 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last Saturday, missed his second game in a row. He was replaced by Jeremy Williams. Jamie Sifers played last night despite the return of Van Ryn. Anton Stralman also did not play.

HE GOT SKILLS

Jeremy Williams' goal at 17:39 of the second, tying the game 1-1, was his second in two games since being called up from the AHL Marlies. His goal on Monday against the New York Islanders marked the fourth consecutive time he had scored after being called up by the Leafs.


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