The Buffalo Sabres hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs at the First Niagara Center this evening. Heading into this game, Buffalo was riding a five-game losing streak and a four-game streak of only scoring one goal per game. The Sabres clearly needed to improve their play if they wanted to have any chance against their division rival.
Unfortunately for Sabres fans, Buffalo came flat out of the gate.
Their flat play bit them early, as at 2:12, Phil Kessel would score his 14th goal of the season. This put Toronto up, 1-0.
Although Buffalo found themselves with a few chances throughout the period, they struggled to maintain offensive pressure, and their defense was not much better.
Toronto not only played a better all around first period, but they had a pro-Leafs crowd in their back pocket.
Heading into the second period, there were clear adjustments that needed to be made.
Coming out of the intermission, Buffalo’s bad play continued, until they were awarded their first power play of the game following a holding call on Leafs defender Paul Ranger.
A Tyler Myers point shot would be the move that started the falling of the dominoes. Myers’ shot was saved, but a juicy rebound landed on the stick of Ville Leino. While Leino fell over, he was able to still possess the puck. Leino passed it over to Matt Moulson, who shoveled the puck in for his 10th of the season at 7:57. The game was tied at 1-1.
Less than three minutes later, the Leafs would put a halt to Buffalo’s forward momentum.
A gritty play behind the net by Leafs forward Trevor Smith would lead to a great chance for Toronto, one that would put Buffalo back in a hole. Smith flipped the puck to the front of the net, from his stomach, to Nikolai Kulemin. The puck would just as quickly be deposited over the shoulder of Ryan Miller for Kulemin’s 2nd goal of the season, and second of the game for Toronto, at 10:23.
Less than two minutes later, the Sabres would be on the man-advantage following a dangerous boarding to Drew Stafford from Cody Franson.
That is where the period, and the offense, turned for the Sabres.
Buffalo would find themselves out shooting the Leafs 6-1 in the final 7:32, 6-0 in the final 6:11.
While the Sabres were on their offensive barrage, they were able to score the equalizer.
After playing a half game of great hockey, hard work and being in the right spot finally paid off for recently recalled forward Luke Adam.
Zemgus Girgensons began the play near the left faceoff dot in the Sabres offensive zone. A Girgensons shot would be saved, but the puck got back to his stick. Girgensons would then pass the puck over to Luke Adam, who put the puck home for his first goal of the season. This goal, Adam’s first with Buffalo since April 5, 2013.
“It feels good,” Adam said. “It’s a relief. Each and every game I’ve been playing since I got here, I’ve been building a little bit at a time and getting more and more confident. I think I should’ve had a couple more tonight , but I won’t complain with one.”
Buffalo would head into the intermission on the positive side of things, for a chance.
“Having to battle back there in the second period, I thought that was one of our strongest periods of the entire season,” said Ryan Miller.
The first half of the third period was a very odd one, with how the first two periods had unfolded.
Buffalo and Toronto shifted momentum back and forth, but Buffalo did not end up officially recording a shot until 8:14 into the period.
Toronto began to take a hold of the period, when Buffalo’s play suggested they’d be content with going to overtime.
As time ticked off the clock, that would change for Buffalo.
The minutes remaining waned into the single digits, Buffalo’s offensive and defensive presence increased exponentially.
Defensively, newly acquired forward Matt D’Agostini had what many have called the play of the game.
As Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk skated down the right side on a mini-breakaway, D’Agostini had a clear path to the puck. D’Agostini dove, perfectly cleared the puck, while hauling van Riemsdyk down in the process. There was no penalty called on the play, due to the textbook nature of D’Agostini’s puck clearing.
“Players that come from St. Louis and Pittsburgh know how to play the game right,” said Ted Nolan. “He (D’Agostini) did it tonight.”
Offensively, Buffalo’s pressure would come to a head, when Ville Leino drew a holding penalty from Leafs’ Paul Ranger with 1:32 remaining in the third.
While Buffalo could not close things out in regulation, a conclusion to this intense game would come soon.
In overtime, Buffalo had just come off the power play, but they were still pressuring Toronto in the offensive zone.
That is when Christian Ehrhoff unleashed a wicked wrist shot from the point, and thanks in part to a screening Matt D’Agostini, the puck shot passed James Reimer. Ehrhoff’s 2nd goal of the season, at 0:38 in overtime, sealed the win for Buffalo.
“I think that was his (Ehrhoff) first wrist shot of the year,” Moulson said. “Maybe he’s got to shoot like that more often. He’s got a pretty good snap shot.”
Following the game, the pro-Leafs crowd had an interesting way to salute the Sabres overtime victory.
“I think that’s a first for me getting beer cans thrown at me after a win in my own building,” said Matt Moulson. “It was an energetic crowd today, and it was a lot of fun to play.”
Drew Stafford also added an interesting perspective. “After a home win, you get beer cans thrown at you. We’ll take it.”
With this victory, Buffalo goes to 6-20-1 (13 points) on the season.
The Sabres take the ice again tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. Puck drops shortly after 7 PM, and that game will be broadcast on MSG.