TORONTO - Leafs coach Randy Carlyle chuckled when it was presented to him after the morning skate that he had a chance to make life miserable for the Buffalo Sabres by playing the spoiler card.
“We’ve used a lot of cards,” Carlyle said. “This deck has only got 52.”
Plus the jokers, of which there had been too many prior to Saturday’s night’s huge exhale of a 4-3 win.
Carlyle’s counterpart, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, new better however. His Sabres were weary after a home loss to Pittsburgh the night before and had lost two defenceman over the past week.
And unlike so many NHL teams that have had their way in Toronto of late, the Sabres hadn’t won here in their four previous visits.
So not only was there the relief of Carlyle getting his first home win as Leafs coach and the team’s first at the ACC after an 11-game losing streak on home ice. It also allowed to get a little dig in at the opposition.
“Any time you can win a game and hurt the other team’s (playoff) chances, we’re not going to feel bad about it, that’s for sure,” said Leafs forward Joey Crabb, who had a short-handed goal and an assist.
That rivalry with the Sabres is a good one and with Washington beating Montreal in a shootout, suddenly the Sabres’ playoff hopes are on thin ice. Little victory sure, but it’s a start.
Solid effort for Ben Scrivens in the Leafs net as he was able to translate his strong play with the Marlies up with the big team. Best stretch was a three- or four-minute span midway through the second when he stuffed the Sabres’ power play and made seven total saves. Scrivens, who didn’t find out he was getting the start until after his game in Rochester on Friday night, felt a little sheepish talking about the relief factor of his sometimes teammates. “I don’t know if I should be the spokesman here,” Scrivens said ... Seems like a broken record, but the Leafs willingness to go hard to the net has been absent on too many nights. Against the Sabres, however, they saw what it can do as they bothered Ryan Miller frequently. John-Michael Liles burst to the net for a big 3-1 lead goal at the buzzer to end the second period was a huge play in the game ... The Sabres were playing the second game of a back-to-back set for the 21st time, a league high and it showed at times ... Ville Leino’s goal to pull the Sabres to within one at 6:48 of the third was his first in 13 games and seventh of the season. He got some help from Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, who was caught flat-footed on the play.
The Leafs have had their share of injury woes with 224 man-games lost heading into Saturday, but it pales when compared to the Sabres, who were at 313. Worse, they lost towering defenceman Tyler Myers to a foot injury in Friday’s loss to Pittsburgh ... Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski had to leave midway through the third after getting cut by a skate in the leg area. Team officials were quiet on the details though Carlyle acknowledged it was a “deep cut.” ... That quick release by Matt Frattin with his seventh goal of the season to give the Leafs a 4-2 lead midway through the third was the type of action the team will want to see more of as he continues to develop his offensive side. “I’m just trying to get shots on net,” Frattin said. It was a big goal for the rookie, who hadn’t registered a point in 11 games and will soon by bound to the Marlies for the AHL playoffs ... Scrivens didn’t get an assist on the Frattin goal but a big save at the other end helped set it up ... Instead of serenading for the Blue Jays, the ACC fans mockingly chanted “Mill-er, Mill-er,” in the third. Had to be music to the ears of the beleagured Toronto players ... Interesting comments from captain Dion Phaneuf following the morning skate. “When we play a fast, up tempo game, it’s more fun to play that style for a game and feel good about ourselves,” Phaneuf said. “When we’re playing that way, we’re a confident team.” The Leafs certainly pressed the pace more on Saturday than they had in recent games, but without the sometimes wreckless run-and-gun style they used under Ron Wilson ... One thing Scrivens seems to do more effectively than the two regular Leafs goalies is play the puck outside of his crease.
Defenceman Cody Franson was the odd man out on D for the Leafs, meaning Mike Komisarek drew back in after sitting the previous three. It was the 25th time Franson had been the healthy scratch (16 under Wilson, nine under Carlyle). Komisarek has sat three times under Carlyle and 13 under Wilson. He was also sidelined 21 games due to injury ... One of the good things that may come out of the Leafs season is Crabb earning a better shot at a secure future in the league. The checking/penalty killing ace had a nice short-handed breakaway goal to open the scoring and hwas named the game’s first star. Crabb has 11 goals in 64 games with the Leafs. Entering the season he had seven in 77 career NHL games.