Leafs put Sabres milestone on hold
Ian White's bouncing shot with eight minutes left in the third period propelled the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 2-1 win over the Sabres on Friday night in Buffalo.
After holding in a dribbling puck at the blue-line, White threw a harmless-looking wrist shot at the net that took a big hop over goalie Ryan Miller, who was stationed deep in his net.
"It's our home rink and I should know better. Our ice is terrible toward the end of the game," said Miller, who stopped 31 shots. "It gets a little bouncy and a little rough. I have to get my body in the way."
Jeremy Williams scored for the second time in as many games since being summoned from the minors, and Vesa Toskala made 24 saves as Toronto (11-12-6) won the first meeting this season between the QEW rivals.
Toni Lydman opened the scoring for the Sabres (14-12-3), who were denied not only their fourth straight win but also the 10,000th goal in franchise history. Buffalo remains stuck at 9,999.
The Leafs put themselves in position to win with an inspired penalty-killing stretch spanning from the final moments of the second period into the third.
Native Buffalonian Lee Stempniak put Toronto in trouble by drawing a four-minute call for clipping Andrej Sekera in the face with a high stick with 10 seconds left in the second.
The Leafs were 16 seconds away from killing off that disadvantage when Jeff Finger was fingered for hooking. But his team's 27th-ranked penalty-killing unit came through, allowing just a single shot on net.
The Sabres, though, will be talking about the shot that missed the net during that power play. Drew Stafford had a wide open cage and eons of time from just outside the crease, but fired his shot wide.
"We still gave up a few too many chances, but they weren't able to score," said Toskala, who was making his eighth straight start. "But I think we're moving in the right direction. We just keep improving as a team and trying to get better every game."
Toronto's defence corps was bolstered by the return of Mike Van Ryn, back after spending the past five weeks recovering from a multitude of injuries including a concussion and broken bone in his hand — the result of being rammed into the end boards from behind by Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos on Nov. 8.
Van Ryn logged a workmanlike 19:26 of ice time, registered four shots and finished with a plus-1 rating.
Leafs-Sabres games in Buffalo are normally boisterous affairs, owing to the large number of Toronto fans who make the two-hour trek. But Friday's contest was relatively muted as the announced attendance at HSBC Arena fell a few hundred short of capacity.
The Sabres supporters were first on their feet thanks to some nifty work by Derek Roy. Drawing the attention of three Leaf defenders as he crossed their blue-line, Roy deftly slipped the puck to Lydman, who walked in alone and beat Toskala six minutes in.
Buffalo's 1-0 lead stood until 2:21 remained in the second, when Williams moved in from the left point and whipped a shot into the top right corner of the net.
Despite the loss, the Sabres continued their remarkable penalty-killing run by blanking the Leafs on all four of their power-play chances. Buffalo has erased 39 of its last 40 penalties (97.5 per cent) to improve to third-best in the NHL with a success rate of 88.4 per cent on the season.