The Buffalo Sabres put together one of their best 60-minute efforts of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday. However, they needed to sustain it for a bit longer in order to earn two points against their Atlantic Division rival.
Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff’s wrist shot from the point 38 seconds into overtime gave Buffalo a 3-2 victory at First Niagara Center.
Matt D’Agostini, who was claimed off waivers by the Sabres on Tuesday, was screening Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer when Ehrhoff’s shot went in five-hole.
“I saw somebody was there and I had a little room to shoot through [Maple Leafs defenseman Carl] Gunnarsson’s legs and just got it through there,” Ehrhoff said. “I don’t think the goalie saw it.”
Actually, he had less room than he thought. Ehrhoff’s shot went through Gunnarsson’s skate in the space between Gunnarsson’s boot and skate blade on its way to – and past – Reimer. The goal came just as a Buffalo power play had expired.
“I think that’s his first wrist shot of the year, so that was pretty good. Maybe he’s got to shoot like that more often. He’s got a pretty good snap shot,” Sabres forward Matt Moulson joked.
Moulson also scored for the Sabres. He now has goals in back-to-back contests. Ryan Miller made 22 saves in the winning effort.
Luke Adam recorded his first goal of the season to tie the game 2-2. He’s had numerous opportunities to score the past few games and was involved in several scoring chances against Toronto.
“It feels good. It’s a relief,” he said. “I think each and every game I’ve been playing since I got here, I’ve building a little at a time and getting more and more confident. I think I should have had a couple more tonight but I won’t complain with one.”
Adam was tied for the most goals in the American Hockey League when was called up on Nov. 19 from the Rochester Americans. In the short time he’s been back with the team, he’s noticed a difference in the team’s demeanor, particularly under interim coach Ted Nolan.
Nolan was named interim coach on Nov. 13 and many players, including Adam, have said they feel like the confidence in the room has been growing since he took over. Nolan’s first win this season was at First Niagara Center against the Maple Leafs on Nov. 15.
“I think as a team, we’re getting more and more confident each and every game,” Adam said. “Ever since Ted got here, I think the guys are just building on each and every game and we feel a lot more confident as a team, as players. When we come to the rink in the morning for practice, when we come for the game, that’s carrying over. I think we’re playing a lot better.”
Nolan attributed some of that to the fact that he and the players are building relationships. Getting on the same page has been an important piece to their steady improvement.
“[In the] last couple days, players are starting to get to me a lot better, I’m starting to get to know them and the last two or three days of practice, I felt like we’re really starting to understand one another,” he said.
Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin scored for Toronto. Reimer stopped 26 shots.
With the victory, Buffalo improves to 13-1-1 in their past 15 home games against the Maple Leafs
One key for the Sabres against Toronto was staying out of the penalty box. Late penalties in close games have been detrimental to the team lately and, most recently, it cost them an opportunity to stage a comeback against Montreal on Wednesday. But in the game with the Maple Leafs, Buffalo found themselves shorthanded only once in the game.
“It was a total team effort by us, from the first to the last guy, everybody did their job tonight,” Ehrhoff said. “It was a hard fought victory for us and I’m glad we won it.”
Buffalo was able to tie the game twice.
The visitors opened the scoring. Kessel scored on a 2-on-1 with James van Riemsdyk 2:12 into the game. Skating down the left wing, Kessel roofed a shot over Miller’s blocker.
Moulson’s tying tally with at 7:57 of the second period came with 11 seconds remaining on a Sabres power play. Ville Leino stretched to shovel a rebound from a Tyler Myers shot into the slot where Moulson finished the play into an empty net.
Toronto regained the lead 2:20 later. Down on the ice behind the net, Trevor Smith flipped a puck up that ended up in front of the goal. Kulemin was there to cash it in to make it 2-1.
Buffalo tied it up late in the second period. Adam won a faceoff to Reimer’s right and then moved over to the right side of the net. Zemgus Girgensons threw a shot on net and Adam put home the rebound off Reimer’s pads with 1:10 remaining in the period.
“I was kind of in a lucky spot at the right time and able to get it off,” Adam said. “I thought their goalie played really well tonight and made some other big saves on me. It was nice to finally get that one to go in.”
D’Agostini was involved in two key plays for Buffalo late in the game.
With 20.4 seconds remaining in regulation, van Riemsdyk skated in alone shorthanded on Miller. D’Agostini was the first one on the backcheck and laid out to knock the puck away to eliminate the scoring chance. Many Maple Leafs fans in attendance expected a penalty to be called on the play.
“I couldn’t believe I was the last man back and I thought I just tried to get as much puck as I can,” D’Agostini said. “I think he tried to step through me, through my stick there so I think it was a good no-call.”
Then, he was in front of the net, screening Riemer on the overtime winner.
“If you look at the goal, D’Agostini, not only did he make a great defensive play on that one situation, but he was a great net-front presence on the goal,” Nolan said. “He didn’t stand off, try to tip it, he was in a good position to screen so that was a big play.”
The Sabres are back in action Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center at 7 p.m.