Maple Leafs Salvage Season-Series with 5-2 Win over Buffalo

Toronto (5) Buffalo (2) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Monday, April 2, 2018

If you thought the Maple Leafs and Sabres have been playing each other a lot lately, you’re certainly not wrong. Monday marked the fourth meeting in less than a month between the bitter rivals from across the Queen Elizabeth Highway, which never ceases to entertain despite where each team is in the standings.

The season series hung in the balance as Buffalo entered the night with a 2-1 advantage and could use any small victory to close out a wretched season. 

Including tonight, three games remained for Toronto and without a lot left to play for, Mike Babcock’s focus has shifted to the playoffs. Seeing as they are cemented in 3rd place of the Atlantic Division, the processes of resting players and testing pairings have begun. 

Travis Dermott missed the game due to injury after blocking a shot off of his foot on Saturday night. According to Toronto’s bench boss, Mike Babcock, Dermott is only expected to be out short term, 

“Now he's walking around and all that so it's just give him a couple of days here and he should be up and running.'

Subsequently, Leo Komarov and Kasperi Kapanen also had the night off to give fringe players a chance to step back into the lineup. Matt Martin and Andreas Johnsson drew back in to ensure they’re adequately prepared for when the playoffs start next week.

Curtis McElhinney started in between the pipes for his second game in-a-row, with the plan being for Frederik Andersen to assume his starting role in Toronto’s final two games.

As the action got underway, it would be Toronto breaking the ice just 5:44 into the opening frame. Making the most of his opportunity, Andreas Johnsson managed to slip a subtle redirect past Chad Johnson and record his 2nd career goal. Johnsson played the feed from Tomas Plekanec perfectly and asserted his dominance in front of the net.

Toronto’s lead would hold up until an early second-period strike evened the score at 1-apiece.

Sam Reinhart went on to record his 24th goal, setting a new career-high, by tipping Rasmus Ristolainen’s initial shot from the point. It appeared the Sabres were about to make a game out of this, however, that was far from the case.

Two minutes later, the Maple Leafs were awarded a power play and Auston Matthews went straight to work.  

Toronto’s second power-play unit dominated the offensive zone with a cycle around the perimeter, at least until Morgan Rielly was able to hook up with the eventual goal-scorer. Rielly connected with Matthews, who had his sights set on the upper-corner, and so the upper-corner he had. It happened to be just his third power-play goal of the season—and his first since November 30th.

Before you knew it, the dynamic duo of Auston Matthews and William Nylander were at the forefront of Toronto’s offence.

With a little help from his teammates, William Nylander recorded his 18th and 19th goals to give the Leafs a 4-1 lead at the second intermission. If the slick Swede is able to get himself going before the playoffs, Toronto will prove to be a much more dangerous team in the eyes of their undetermined opponent. 

Jason Pominville went on to add a tally for Buffalo in the third period, only for Auston Matthews to erase it with his second goal of the game merely moments later. It turned out to be another power-play goal, too.

Additionally, Jake Gardiner notched his 50th point of the season with a secondary assist on the play. Gardiner joins Morgan Rielly in becoming the only defence duo in the NHL to hit the 50-point plateau, respectively. It’s the first occurrence since the 2015-16 Nashville Predators boasted two 50+ point defenceman—doing so with Roman Josi (61) and Shea Weber (51). 

When it was all said and done, the score read 5-2 in favour of Toronto as they salvaged the season series from Buffalo’s grasp and ended with two victories apiece.

Casey Mittelstadt entered Monday with assists in his first two career games for the Sabres—but that streak came to an abrupt end tonight. Although, he did, in fact, register his first career penalty in the loss.

With his two strikes tonight, Auston Matthews now owns the record for most goals scored by a Maple Leaf in their first two NHL seasons with his current 73. He surpasses Wendel Clark and the 71 goals he scored throughout the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs