Toronto, Ontario (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres pretended like it was last season when they handled the Toronto Maple Leafs very well. One year to the day after beating Toronto at the Heritage Classic in Hamilton, Ontario, Buffalo overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Leafs, 4-3.
Listen to WGR now!
Monday’s game marked the return of Alex Tuch after missing eight games due to injury, and he picked up right where he left off. In his last game before injury, he scored the game-winning goal against the Florida Panthers. Monday night saw him come back and net two goals, including the game-winner.
That goal came on the power pay when Jeff Skinner found him open in front with a gorgeous pass. It marked the first time that Tuch had ever scored 30 goals in the National Hockey League. Skinner shared a nice moment with Tuch after the game, presenting him the puck with, “Nice Pass” written on it.
It all started with the Sabres making a huge concerted effort to limit scoring chances on goalie Craig Anderson. I realize they gave up 12 first period shots, but some of those were from distance. With the exception of around a three-minute spurt, I thought Buffalo did a great job, especially the defensive pair of Owen Power and Henri Jokiharju.
Power added two assists in addition to his good defensive game. He also was playing where he grew up, and had a special guest there rooting him on.
Those two were very noticeable the whole game, and after the game, head coach Don Granato said that’s the best he’s seen Jokiharju play in weeks.
The first 4:13 of the second period, the Sabres didn’t defend very well and they found themselves down 2-0.
On the first goal, Anderson stopped a 2-on-1 and seemed to have everything under control, but Peyton Krebs stopped skating on his back check, allowing Auston Matthews a clear lane to the net and he shoveled the puck in.
A few minutes later, Calle Jarnkrok came down with speed and walked Rasmus Dahlin to the middle of the ice and set him up as a screen to score a goal that Anderson never saw.
Dahlin missed practice on Sunday, was listed as day-to-day and he struggled. He was on the ice for all three Toronto goals.
After that goal at 4:13, the Sabres held Toronto without a shot for the next 17 minutes, outshooting them 15-0.
Before the second ended, Jack Quinn scored a huge goal, knocking a puck out of the air to send the Sabres into the intermission down 2-1.
When leading after two periods, Toronto came in 28-1-4, so it was still going to be an uphill battle.
Anderson had to start the third period making a huge save on Will Nylander's breakaway. That helped ignite the comeback for Buffalo.
Tage Thompson went behind the net with former Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe. Tuch knows when to jump into the crease in front, and just as he did, Thompson shocked McCabe with a no-look backhand pass right on Tuch’s tape to tie the game.
Buffalo almost fell behind when John Tavares was staring at more than half an empty net, but his shot went off line and right into the midsection of Anderson.
I thought Thompson had his jump back all night long, and he used his speed to produce a breakaway that Matt Murray stopped. Right after that, though, Murray made a great save on a Dylan Cozens tip, but Cozens was tenacious and got the puck back and promptly gave Buffalo a lead it would never relinquish.
While Tuch was out, the Sabres struggled on the power play, scoring at just an 18.2% clip, which was 18th in the league. Tuch’s power play goal gave Buffalo a little breathing room that it needed.
With around four minutes left, Toronto pulled its goalie and the Sabres missed the unattended cage four different times, failing to get that fifth goal.
Anderson stopped a 2-on-0 rush, as Tavares slid a pass over to Mike Bunting, but the Sabres goalie made his most important save of the night.
Yes, Nylander made it 4-3 with Murray pulled when he came down the right wing. Dahlin did his job pushing Nylander off to a very bad angle, and it was a shot that Anderson would want back. Other than that, though, Anderson had a great game and made more than one game-saving save.
Monday was one of Buffalo’s games in-hand on the New York Islanders. By winning, the Sabres still control their own playoff destiny. They’re five points out of the Eastern Conference’s final Wild Card spot held by the Isles.
Buffalo must win both their games in-hand, plus the head-to-head game on March 25 to pass the Islanders on their own.
The Sabres will be back to three games in-hand after the Islanders play in Los Angeles against the Kings on Tuesday. The Ottawa Senators are one point behind the Sabres and are in Edmonton on Tuesday.
Buffalo is in Washington on Wednesday, but first, the Capitals are in New York to play the New York Rangers. The Detroit Red Wings visit the Nashville Predators. Buffalo is tied with Washington with one game in-hand, and is two points ahead of Detroit and even in games.