TORONTO - Roll out the clichés, pull out the platitudes -– it's do-or-die time for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With time running out on their season, the Leafs need to win every game they can, especially when it's against a division rival who they are within striking distance of.
Sitting in 10th spot in the East, the rested Leafs (29-29-10) trail the Sabres by six points heading into Saturday night’s contest at the Air Canada Centre.
Buffalo (33-26-8) currently sits in seventh in the conference with 74 points, one place above the New York Rangers, courtesy of two games in hand.
“It's one of those games where we’re down six points on Buffalo and we play them twice more, tonight and one other time, and if you want to gain ground on a team, you have to beat them head to head,” Leafs forward Tim Brent said after the team's Saturday morning skate.
“We’re either four points away or eight points away after tonight, and that four-point swing is usually the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.”
What will make the Leafs task doubly difficult is that the Sabres are 6-3 in their past nine games -– with two of those losses coming in overtime -– and they have one of the best goalies in the league in Ryan Miller (29-19-7, 2.67 GAA, .913 SV%).
The game plan for the Leafs will be to get lots of traffic in front of the Sabres net so that Miller doesn’t get a good look at the puck.
“If he gets in one of those zones where he is comfortable and seeing the puck and we’re making things easy on him, he’s one of those guys who can stop 40, 45 shots.” forward Joffrey Lupul said. “It’s got to happen right from the first shift, we’re going to be in front. Some of the guys, like myself, are going to have to be there (in front of the net) all night, and I expect we will be.”
One guy who would like to help the Leafs accomplish their goal of dumping the Sabres is Clarke MacArthur. Though the Leafs forward has 19 goals this season -– the most in his NHL career -– he hasn’t netted one since Feb. 26 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he would love to break the 20-goal barrier against his former team.
“Tonight is obviously going to be the biggest game of the year ... I’d love to get one,” MacArthur said. “It’s one of those things where if you’re not scoring you have to help out at the other end. I obviously have to step it up tonight.”
Toronto, which has lost its past three games, didn’t practice on Friday, opting instead for a team meeting and a light workout behind closed doors.
“I don’t know if we needed it physically, but just mentally,” Lupul said of not skating on Friday. “We had a little meeting and talked about the magnitude of this game. It was nice to refocus and there are definitely no excuses tonight, everyone should be fresh.”
James Reimer (12-6-4, 2.54 GAA, .922 SV%) will get the start again for the Leafs.