TORONTO – The Buffalo Sabres held their first two-goal lead of the season in the first period, opened the door for the Toronto Maple Leafs to rally in the second and then stormed back in the final 30 seconds of the third to earn a point.
Captain Steve Ott scored on the power play as an extra attacker with 24.1 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. The Maple Leafs eventually prevailed in the shootout, defeating the Sabres 4-3 in front of 19,405 fans at Air Canada Centre.
“It was good to see our team battle back,” Ott said. “The relentlessness of our team that came back and found a way to tie it up, that’s the stuff that we need and that’s why we continue to find character together.”
Matt Moulson and John Scott scored for Buffalo. Ryan Miller made 41 saves in regulation and overtime, including two big ones in overtime with his right pad on James van Riemsdyk and Dion Phaneuf, that kept the Sabres alive.
“If there’s any merit to what we deserve tonight is what we got. It’s one of those things where we played as bad as we could play and still get a point,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said.
It was a pretty eventful night once again for Scott.
Playing in his 200th NHL game Friday night, the Sabres forward scored 7:53 into the first period to give his club a two-goal lead to start the game.
The play to set up the goal started when Matt Ellis forced a turnover at the Sabres blue line and raced up the ice. Bernier gave up two rebounds to Ellis, the second one landing on Scott’s tape. With barely a flick of his wrist, Scott roofed a shot into the top of the net for the second goal of his career.
The 6-foot-8, 259-pound forward is better known for beating opponents with his fists than beating goaltenders with his shooting accuracy. He saw extended time on the power play last game and was finally rewarded for his efforts on Friday.
As he skated along the bench to celebrate, his teammates were obviously fired up.
“It’s obviously not every day I score, so they were pretty excited,” Scott said. “They were kind of hoping I’d get one the next few games. It’s been a long time so to get one tonight for the guys, especially against a rival like Toronto, it was a nice goal.”
His last – and only other – goal came on Nov. 15, 2009 in Carolina when he was with the Minnesota Wild.
“When you only score two, you remember them all,” he joked.
However, Toronto stormed back with three goals in the second period to take a 3-2 lead.
Jake Gardiner, who ripped a slapshot from the point in the middle of the ice to make it 2-1 with 8:22 to play in the period, started the Maple Leafs comeback.
Peter Holland’s goal over Miller’s glove tied the game with 3:35 left.
Then, with Scott in the box for high-sticking, Phil Kessel scored with exactly 17 seconds to go in the frame.
“Piece of crap second period, that’s what I’d call it. That was one of the worst periods we played all year. Obviously they took advantage of that,” Moulson said. “You have a 2-0 lead in this League, you can’t just expect to win. It’s hard work for 60 minutes no matter how much you’re up. We’ll hopefully learn from that and not let it happen again.”
Buffalo had numerous chances in the final minute of regulation and they were able to break through on the power play in that final minute.
Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers kept the play alive at the point and found an opening to get a shot through to Bernier. The puck deflected off Moulson in front and landed near the top of the crease where Ott was able to put it home to tie the game.
“For us to continue to find production, we’re going to have to keep going to the hard areas to find goals,” Ott said.
The game came after the three-day holiday break and four days after Buffalo played two skaters down against Phoenix. That game, on Monday, had four Sabres out of the lineup with the flu. Nolan put three of them – Ville Leino, Marcus Foligno and Linus Omark – on a line together Friday night.
“You give them a little bit of a [benefit of the] doubt with the flu being so bad and never had practice the last three days or whatever, but you still have to compete a little bit more,” Nolan said.
Fifty-two seconds before Scott’s goal in the first period, the Sabres opened the scoring after Zemgus Girgensons bullied his way around the net and, while falling to the ice, threw a pass in front to Moulson.
Standing in front of the net, the puck went off Moulson’s pants and then Phaneuf knocked the puck in to give Moulson his 13th goal of the season.
“It was great work by [Girgensons] there,” Moulson said. “Obviously the first and third, that’s how we have to play periods, not getting away from our game plan at all.”
Buffalo next hosts the Washington Capitals on Sunday at 5 p.m. at First Niagara Center.