SECOND TO NONE
Second period outburst fuels 5-4 win over Toronto
BUFFALO – Secondary scoring? Check. Scoring on the power play? Check. Protecting a lead? Check. Winning at home? Priceless.
It was the perfect storm of events on Friday as the Buffalo Sabres capped a frustrating 10-day homestand with a 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in front of a raucous sold-out crowd at First Niagara Center. Thomas Vanek scored twice and added two assists to lead Buffalo in the win. The Sabres finished 2-1-2 during the five-game homestand, and now head to Pittsburgh on Saturday in search of two wins in a row for the first time since a three-game streak from November 5-11.
“It was a good effort by everybody. The building was rocking, the energy was great. We kind of fed off that. It was a fun game to be a part of, and a fun game to play in,” said Jason Pominville, who had two assists. “Overall our battles were much better, our special teams did a good job and we won the game. We need to keep on rolling.”
After a scoreless first period, the two teams traded volleys for the first half of the second period. Joffrey Lupul opened the scoring at 1:49, then Drew Stafford answered back at 4:11 on the power play. Thomas Vanek picked up the puck behind the Leafs net, swept around the left side and found the wide-open Stafford in the slot for the 100th goal of his career. It was Buffalo’s first power play goal in the last four games
Dion Phaneuf's point shot past a screened Ryan Miller at 9:03 gave the Maple Leafs a very short-lived lead. Just 19 seconds later, Zack Kassian tracked down Jake Gardiner in the Toronto zone and stripped him of the puck. He fed Vanek with a tape-to-tape pass, and he stared down Reimer for a second before firing a laser over his glove.
“Anytime you can react quickly, it doesn’t let the other team get into their rhythm of the kind of game you see in the NHL now where they get a lead and it gets boring with all the traps. It gets frustrating,” explained Miller, who made 29 saves to earn the victory. “To answer quickly keeps them out of their comfort zone and allows us to kind of push forward.”
Buffalo’s special teams took over after that. Toronto took four straight penalties in less than five minutes, including a five-minute major and game misconduct to Phaneuf for boarding Kassian behind the Toronto net.
The Maple Leafs came into the game with the league’s 29th-ranked penalty kill, and the Sabres pounced all over their not-so-special teams on goals by Tyler Ennis and Andrej Sekera to close out the second period. Buffalo was three-for-six on the night with the man advantage.
“Our power play made the difference tonight,” said Vanek. Some nights it’s not as good and tonight it made the difference. That’s what you want.”
Nikolai Kulemin (on a penalty shot) and Mikhail Grabovski scored Toronto’s other goals. James Reimer stopped 24 shots in the loss for Toronto. He allowed four goals on just 10 shots in the second period.
NOTES: Vanek and Derek Roy both played in their 500th career NHL game tonight … Phaneuf’s goal in the second period snapped a streak of 48 straight penalties killed by Sabres against Toronto over their last 14 games. It was the longest such streak in NHL. … Patrick Kaleta missed the game with an undisclosed injury. He had been out of the lineup for the last five games with a groin injury, but said yesterday he expected to play tonight. But Lindy Ruff said this morning that Kaleta “wasn’t feeling well” when he arrived at the rink this morning. Colin Stuart was recalled from Rochester this afternoon, but did not dress.