Leafs 4 Sabres 2: The Dream Lives on...
The results of tonight's Leafs VS Sabres game, and the importance thereof, would be next to impossible to overstate, as the hosts stormed back in the final stanza to take two points from the visiting Buffalo squad, just as they did in their last meeting one month ago.
Odds of wining back to back games against the team that has absolutely owned the Leafs for the last 3 seasons pretty much mirror those of coming back against those same Sabres for a surprise victory in front of an absolutely rocking Leafs crowd at the ACC, but that's exactly how it played out last night in Toronto.
The heroes had to live up to their accolades in order to pull off the stunning upset that Leaf fans were counting on, and that's what they did. Dion Phaneuf led from the back end with a solid, positionally sound and punishing game, while contributing on the board with an assist on Mikhail Grabovski's tying goal in the third.
Buffalo exploited the sole powerplay opportunity the Leafs conceded on a pretty weak hooking call on Grabovski, given the latitude extended to the Sabres moments before as Lupul's stick was being held by a Buffalo defender while the player was on the ice.
Mike Weber then beat a screened Reimer for the first goal of the game.
Later in the first, Clarke MacArthur was the recipient of a gorgeous Grabovski drop pass which he wired past a partially screened Ryan Miller as the spunky Belarussian drove fearlessly to the net, to knot the affair.
After being thwarted on a breakaway by Miller, Tyler Bozak sniped his 11th of the campaign moments later to put the leafs up 2-1, but the euphoria was short-lived.
Jochen Hecht and Jordan Leopold both turned the red light on for the Sabres to take a 3-2 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes.
Whatever speech Coach Wilson made before his charges took to the ice for the final frame in a do-or-die contest of critical importance, it must have rivalled his now-legendary 'Hanta-yo' diatribe, delivered many years ago to a surging Capitals team, based on the desperation level demonstrated by the Leafs, who not only clawed back in regular time to tie the game, with a big goal by one -time Leaf scapegoat-turned golden-boy Mikhail Grabovski, but also found enough mettle to pull ahead at the 6-minute mark.
Luke Schenn hit a streaking Phil Kessel with a laser guided feed from the Leafs zone to spring the Leafs sniper and Kessel made no mistake, as he faked the Sabres defender into committing to cutting inside, before stepping to the outside to create a better look, while simultaneously rifling it by Miller for the winner.
If you haven't done so, go look at the highlight reel video of Kessel's 28th goal of the year—it is a thing of sublime beauty, especially when you consider the keeper he's shooting at.
The Leafs managed to stay focused and disciplined, avoiding the sin-bin, and falling back to protect the net and angle the Buffalo shooters off the net into less than optimal shot positions.
Still, the visitors managed 42 shots at Reimer, who was solid at times and downright spectacular at others, including a larcenous save on Vanek in the third.
Buffalo pressed hard as the game dwindled, with 6 attackers and Miller on the bench, but the Leafs did not waver.
Exactly the type of effort needed for a big win against a divisional opponent, and with Carolina dropping one against the Blue Jackets, thins are going to get interesting as the season winds down.
With 30 wins and 70 points, the Leafs sit just two back of the Canes, and four behind the Rangers. The Canes, Thrashers, Panthers, Islanders and Rangers have all played 69 games or more, while the Sabres, Devils and Senators have played 68. The Devils could make it tough with their spirited play as of the last 45 days, sitting just one win behind Toronto with a game in hand.
Bur the focus must remain solely on what the Leafs can do for themselves, not worrying about the competition, save for the next team they face on any given night.
The next match is on Monday against the Bolts of Tampa Bay who sit 5th in the conference with 85 points, and will likely start Leafs nemesis Dwayne Roloson.
A similar effort to the one demonstrated tonight is what it will take, once again to keep the dream alive for one more day...
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