Maxim Afinogenov scored on the sixth try of the shootout to give the Buffalo Sabres a heart-stopping 4-3 victory over the host Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, keeping the Sabres' slim playoff hopes alive.
The Buffalo forward put a deke on goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who put in a strong effort in his first start in 71 days, and buried a forehand into an empty net.
The Maple Leafs' John Pohl collides with Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta along the boards during the first period of the Sabres' eventual victory in Toronto on Tuesday night.
(Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Derek Roy, Steve Bernier and Thomas Vanek scored in regulation for the Sabres, whose last two games are against Montreal and Boston. They trail the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, who each have three games remaining, by three points.
Darcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen scored for the Leafs, who were playing for pride and did a pretty good job of it.
Trailing 2-1 going into the third, the Sabres tied it at 9:18 on something of a controversial call.
Bernier took a shot that hit Raycroft, rolled up and over his body and across the line just as two players crashed into the net, dislodging it. After a long discussion between the referees and the replay officials in the NHL offices next door, the goal was awarded to Buffalo, making it 2-2.
Toronto put another scare into the hearts of Sabres fans thanks to rookie defender Anton Stralman, who has been playing outstanding hockey of late. He headmanned the puck nicely to Alexei Ponikarovsky, who zipped it across to a charging Steen and he hammered it home for a 3-2 Leaf lead at 12:03.
But Brian McCabe took a bad cross-checking penalty late in the third that allowed a power-play marker by Vanek, who had a shot from the point deflect in off the toe of his skate to tie it up again and send the game to overtime.
Leafs get Sabres coming and going
Buffalo broke a pair of golden rules to fall behind 2-0 in the opening period — don't get scored on in the first or last minutes of any frame.
The Leafs scored on their first rush, Darcy Tucker picking up the rebound and putting it past goaltender Ryan Miller.
It went to 2-0 when Miller gambled and Kaberle took advantage.
The Sabres could not clear, and Jason Blake sent a pass from the point along to Kaberle, pinching from the other side. Miller committed too far to the defenceman, who simply circled the net and wrapped it in on the other side before the goaltender could scramble back.
Buffalo had half a dozen good scoring chances in the opening 10 minutes, but they were all turned aside by Raycroft.
McCabe, who has had a love-hate relationship with Leaf fans this long season, mishandled the puck in the neutral zone early in the second period and that created a three-on-one the other way.
After a save by Raycroft on the initial shot, Roy picked up the puck at the side of the crease and backhanded it in to make it 2-1.
Leaf captain Mats Sundin missed the game as his groin problems continue, and he may be out the rest of the year.
Forward Kyle Wellwood is definitely gone for the final two games this week as he's in Philadelphia having a procedure done for an ongoing hernia problem.
Buffalo defenceman Teppo Numminen, out all season after open-heart surgery, was activated to the roster before the game but did not play.