BUFFALO – It was the shootout that wouldn’t end.
The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs went through 29 shooters combined before Jay McClement scored in the bottom of the 15th round to give Toronto a 3-2 preseason win Saturday night at First Niagara Center.
The shootout was the longest in Sabres history, including both preseason and regular season games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it tied the NHL regular-season record set on Nov. 26, 2005 by the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. Preseason shootouts are not included in their records.
Jhonas Enroth made 32 saves for the Sabres while Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer stopped 38. And those didn’t include the shootout attempts.
“I thought we played well. We had a couple mistakes there in the third to give up the lead, but overall I thought we played well,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said.
Enroth and Rolston both recalled that they had previously experienced a long shootout when they were with the Rochester Americans in 2011-12. Rolston said that skills competition lasted 17 shooters, leaving only one player available to shoot for the Amerks.
The Sabres elected to shoot first against Toronto, so as shooter after shooter failed to score, the burden on Enroth to continue stopping pucks increased. Enroth, however, didn’t seem fazed.
“I felt pretty relaxed in the shootout, so it was a good feeling,” he said.
In the bottom of the 10th round, Paul Ranger attempted a trick shot that appeared to have him simultaneously shooting and kicking the puck. After the failed attempt, Enroth gave him a slap on the backside with his stick.
Initially, Enroth thought Ranger was trying to make him look bad, but cooled on that feeling by the time he stepped into the dressing room.
“I didn’t really like it. I felt like he was trying to embarrass me maybe, but it’s good to see, I guess, [a player] trying to be creative too. So when I think about it now, it’s fine,” Enroth said.
Rolston said that Sabres left wing Zemgus GIrgensons did not go out for the shootout because of a hand injury that is being evaluated.
The game was the first of a home-and-home series between the two teams.
To open the scoring, Pysyk and right wing Drew Stafford connected on a give-and-go on the rush over the Maple Leafs line. Pysyk gave the puck to Stafford and continued his stride in on goal as Stafford hit him with a pass. Pysyk skated in and wristed a shot high over Reimer to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead with 9:40 remaining in the second.
Rolston said that Pysyk has been building on the end of the 2012-13 season, when he made his NHL debut, playing 19 games for the Sabres. Jumping into the play is a part of his game that Rolston said is continually developing.
“He has that ability. Right at the end [of last season], he was showing it a little bit, but I think the more comfortable he gets, he’ll be able to jump in those holes,” Rolston said. “He’s a smart player offensively. I think he’ll be able to help us there.”
Pysyk’s goal was the team’s League-leading eighth of the preseason scored by rookies.
On Buffalo’s second goal with 7:34 left in the second, Pysyk once again started the play by banking the puck up the boards and up to Tyler Ennis, who then fed Foligno a cross-ice pass. Foligno reached to accept it and then threw it on goal, beating Reimer between the legs.
“I was just getting it out of the zone. I was just trying to make a strong play and get it across the blue line,” Pysyk said. “Obviously it was lucky how it turned out.”
Toronto got within one goal with 10:07 to go in regulation. A shot from the left point by Mark Fraser deflected off Josh Leivo and to Devane, who was parked to the left of Enroth. He lifted a backhand into a gaping net to make it 2-1.
They tied it with 4:37 left when Ashton redirected an effort toward the goal from McClement. McClement. Carter Ashton had beelined to the crease down the left slot but the puck went off a Sabres defenseman and into the net.
“The last 10 minutes, [we had] some neutral zone breakdowns that kind of cost us and left Jhonas out a little bit,” Sabres left wing Steve Ott said. “…But all in all, Jhonas was very solid. I liked our attempts at the net. I think we had 40-something shots on goal. I think we can take a lot of positives from that game.”
Among the many chances both teams had to pick up the winning goal in overtime, including a power play opportunity by Toronto. Perhaps the best chance came when Sabres defenseman skated in on a breakaway with under five seconds to play. Reimer made a left pad save as the horn sounded to signal the end of overtime period.
Players and fans alike were quickly reacquainted to the Sabres-Maple Leafs rivalry. With 6:54 left to play in the first period, Cody McCormick and David Broll traded haymakers in a fight that ended in front of the Sabres bench. Ott and Carter Ashton exchanged pleasantries 3:35 later and served five minutes each for fighting.
Then with 2:07 to play in regulation, Patrick Kaleta and Troy Bodie dropped the gloves for the third fight of the night.
Christian Ehrhoff served as the Sabres’ captain for the game. Ott and Stafford served as alternates. Rolston said he’ll rotate the captaincy throughout the preseason before settling on a permanent captain.
Puck drop between the Sabres and Maple Leafs is set for 7 p.m. at Air Canada Centre.