Sabres halt swirling Leafs
The tidal wave of Blue & White roared down the QEW and over the Peace
Bridge. What the horde of Leafs fans saw was one of their best performances of
the year as they almost stole one from the soaring Buffalo Sabres.
The Leafs, down 2-1, scored with mere seconds left to force an overtime. But then Tim Connolly settled it quick with a OT goal just over a minute into overtime, giving Buffalo a hard-fought 3-2 win over their neighbors to the north. Connolly lifted a shot over Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson's shoulder to give the Sabres their 8th win of the season.
It was a tough win, as the Leafs completely dominated the third period and were able to score with just 37.3 seconds on the clock. The horde of Leafs fans dressed in their blue & white Halloween costumes, celebrated like they won Lord Stanley's Silver itself. But their celebration was short-lived with Connolly sending them back to Canada in a less joyous mood.
Miller finding his groove
Ryan Miller was tested often on Beggar's Night. He stopped Buffalo native Lee
Stempniak on a breakaway in the second period and Stempniak was shaking his head
after the Michigan native stopped several other great shots he made.
Miller's counterpart, Leafs rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson, was equally superb in the first two periods against the Sabres. He was the reason why Toronto had a chance to tie it late in the game.
Miller has wanted to be an "elite goalie" and this season he is healthy and fast becoming just that. While the Sabres were having a flat night, especially in the third period when the Leafs were outshooting Buffalo 13-1 at one point, Miller kept Toronto at bay. He made 33 saves in the game and still has the best GAA (1.64) in the NHL and is the only goalie to not have a regulation loss.
"He sensed we were going to need him," Lindy Ruff said in his post
game conference. "He knew that we've got some guys who were under the
weather. He knew it was going to have to be his night. He grabbed the bull by
the horns and did his thing. It was great to see. And he did for a solid 60
With the Leafs swarming around Miller in the latter part of the game, it was only time before the Leafs were going to score. Gustavsson was pulled in the final minute and Miller was like the boy holding back the dam with his catching glove in the hole. Finally, the tidal forces of the Leafs Nation were too much even for Miller as Mikhail Grabovski raised his stick to deflect a high-riser by Tomas Kaberle from the point. The sea of Blue & White errupted like a huge tsunami, flooding HSBC Arena with a thunderous ovation. The Leafs were able to tie the game dispite being a man short and their goalie pulled to even it up. They scored dispite the heroics of Miller.
Tim Connolly, who had scored on Gustavsson midway through the second period, seems to have finally broken out of his slump. His game-winning shot was a laser that got over Gustavsson's shoulder and the Sabres escaped with their lives. The #1 star obviously was Miller who held off the Leafs throughout the game and gave Buffalo the chance to win.
Leafs fight courageously
The Leafs are in last place in the entire NHL, having just one win in 11 games. But on Friday night in Buffalo, the Leafs were the dominant team, especially in the third period. However, it was the penalty kill, which has been their Achilles heel this season, cost them their second goal of the game and the overtime loss. Drew Stafford scored a first period power play for the Sabres and it was Connolly who finished off the Leafs with one 1:04 into the overtime.
When Toronto made all the changes in the offseason, making themselves a
bigger, tougher team, most thought that the Leafs would have a shot to go a long
ways this season. With their very slow start, some are starting to rethink their
position. However, the way the Leafs played on Fright Night in Buffalo, they
gave the first place Sabres the scare of their lives. Buffalo came away with a
3-2 overtime win, but the Leafs went to Montreal for tonights game against the
Habs with confidence they can finally turn this thing around.
It all starts in goal for Toronto with rookie Jonas Gustavsson making 28 saves, some of them spectacular. He stopped 2 breakaways, but was foiled when Connolly scored his fist of the night in the second period. Toronto has been looking for the answer in goal for years now and they think they have it in 25-year old Gustavsson.
"I thought that was a great game," acknowledged Leafs coach Ron Wilson after his team put on a solid performance. "We've taken five points from our last three games and we probably should have won our last five games."
Sabres try to keep even keel
Not to get too excited! That's the Sabres theme and it is wise to use that
approach in viewing the very fast start the Sabres are having. Heck, they just
have to look at last season as a grim reminder that a good October doesn't
assure them a playoff spot.
Last year, they stormed out of the gates at 6-0-0-1. Their lone lost was a shootout loss to Atlanta. (This year, Buffalo's only loss was to the same Atlanta team, in regulation). After this start, they lost 3 straight games, from Oct. 25-30. The Sabres won their next two and then proceeded to lose 7 out of their next 8. We all know how last season turned out.
It seems as if the Sabres are also keeping a level approach to this season. They have had plenty of fast starts in the past only to falter when it mattered the most. Back 4 years ago, they had their best start in history, going 10-0 and winning the Presidents Cup. However, they failed to reach the Stanley Cup finals as injuries wiped out most of their defense. This year’s 8-1-1 start is even better than last year’s. Will overconfidence set in once again along with key injuries? Time will reveal just how far this club has matured.
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