Sabres come from Behind to Top the Maple Leafs 3-2

Buffalo (3) Toronto (2) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Monday, March 26, 2018

Toronto entered Monday with a chance to surpass the single-season franchise record for wins in a single season—aiming for their 46th. In what could have been a historic night for the Maple Leafs franchise, turned out to be an unlikely performance from one of the league’s basement dwellers.

On Saturday, the Maple Leafs logged their second consecutive victory versus Detroit, giving them six wins over their last seven games. An uninspiring effort saw Toronto narrowly edge the Red Wings with a third-period comeback mounted on the back of their quick-strike offence. 

It would be a similar task on Monday as the 30th place Buffalo Sabres were in town for a visit against one of the league’s hottest teams at home. Additionally, it would feature the first matchup of the season featuring both Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews in their respective teams’ lineups.

Jack Eichel has been searching for a skilled line-mate since landing in Buffalo and the Sabres may finally have one in the mix—Casey Mittelstadt. Buffalo signed their 2017 1st round, 8th overall pick to a three-year entry-level contract on Monday. 

Although the top-prospect, who failed to do a single pull-up at the 2017 NHL Scouting Combine and was subsequently voted the best forward of the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship, is now officially under contract, he was not yet ready to make his debut for the Sabres. That is likely to happen on Thursday versus the Red Wings.

As the action got underway, the Sabres would strike first courtesy of Eichel’s 23rd tally of the season. It took all but 3:23 minutes into the opening frame for the away team to take an early advantage.

Kasperi Kapanen appeared to find the equalizer for Toronto just moments later, however, it was determined the puck did not cross the goal line. Auston Matthews also had an opportunity to knot the score, only to find the iron with the crossbar. 

Mike Babcock must have had some choice words for his group during the intermission because the Maple Leafs exploded for two goals in the second period. Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau each found the back of the net, respectively, to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead and reignite the home crowd.

Toronto’s momentum passed like a gazing sun and was gone after just a single period of dominance.

The Buffalo Sabres overwhelmed Toronto’s defence and managed to re-take the lead midway through the final frame. Roman Polak—I mean, Casey Nelson, recorded his 3rd career goal with a wrist shot from that point, which happened to redirect off of Polak’s skate before beating Frederik Andersen. 

With the game tied at 2-apiece, matters only got worse when the Sabres iced the game with another strike just under two minutes later. Jack Eichel fooled Frederik Andersen and recorded his second tally of the game with a slick backhand through the five-hole, effectively giving his team a 3-2 advantage. 

There was still half a period of hockey to be played but the Maple Leafs were unable to solve Chad Johnson before regulation time expired. As a result, the Sabres now own the upper-hand in the season series and lead 2-1-0 versus their rivals from across the Queen Elizabeth Highway.

In addition to the franchise record for wins in a single-season, the Maple Leafs failed to extend their record for consecutive wins at home and had the streak ended at 13-straight games.

Toronto’s bench-boss, Mike Babcock, had this to say after tonight’s loss, 

'We've got to hit the net. We had so many opportunities in the offensive zone & we failed to hit the net. Just looking right here, it says 26 times we missed the net ... In the end, we had every opportunity to win, we were a little too loose & we didn't win.” (credit: @markhmasters)

The Leafs will play host to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, who are currently desperate for wins as they continue to chase down New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot. Puck drop is set at 7:30 p.m. EST. 

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs