Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig / USA TODAY Sports

POSTGAME: Leafs hunt down all the Buffalo

It’s getting closer! The Leafs, thanks to a dominant first period, pulled off a huge 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres tonight, bringing a potential clinch of a playoff spot to as soon as tomorrow night. Here’s what went down:

1st period

This game got off to a hot start, with 4 minutes of consecutive action. Alexander Nylander looked like he had a jump in his step from his call-up. Mitch Marner was also flying around, creating zone time for the Leafs but was ultimately unable to do more than kill time.

The first whistle comes at 16:08 and it comes with roughness as the rival re-builders show their disdain for each other.

The first goal of the game comes on the stick of Leo Komarov, who has been on fire lately. Brown causes a turnover on a bad pass by Lehner, which is picked up by Kadri who finds Komarov alone at the side of the net. 1-0 Leafs.

This was immediately followed up by just a ridiculous play by both William Nylander and Auston Matthews. Nylander creates a turnover, dances around the Buffalo defender into the side boards, changes direction and finds Mathews in the slot. Matthews makes no mistake with it, and puts a beautiful wrist shot into the top corner past Robin Lehner. 2-0 Leafs.

And again, immediately after that, right off of a faceoff, James Van Riemdsdyk takes a set play pass from Tyler Bozak and immediately beats Lehner on the far side. Not a great look there on Lehner, who gets pulled right afterwards. 3-0 Leafs.

Going back to the Matthews goal, it breaks Peter Ihnacak’s record for points by a rookie. Auston’s 67th point cements himself in Maple Leafs history, for the 2nd time after breaking Clark’s rookie goals record. Makes you think that there are a few more records Matthews may break over the course of his career.

The Leafs continued to get chances and displaying their dominance, but Anders Nilsson was looking solid in relief of Lehner.

The Sabres finished the period taking two frustration penalties. One would assume they are attempting to intimidate the Leafs but the referees won’t let them do so outside the rulebook. The period ends 3-0 Leafs.

2nd period

The Leafs start this period on a 5-on-3 for 13 seconds as a result of the Sabres’ penalties. But the Leafs were unable to capitalize.

The Sabres finally showed some sign of life as Ryan O’Reilly picked up a breakaway chance that he buried, on an unfortunate failure in blue line aggressiveness by Jake Gardiner. 3-1 Leafs.

Some more frustration play from the Sabres as Evander Kane first hits Freddie Andersen with his glove on his way by the net, and on the next play slashes Nazem Kadri on the thumb. Both were uncalled.

Not much else would happen here in the second period, and it would end at 3-1 for Toronto.

3rd period

Early in the 3rd, Jack Eichel runs Marner on a bad looking hit into the boards which sends the Leafs to the powerplay. The Leafs score on a beautiful shot through the 5-hole by Kadri, which starts a scrum of the Sabres complaining about Kadri going for a shove against Ristolainen after the goal. Unfortunately, the move sends the Leafs to a penalty kill – their first against a very dangerous Buffalo powerplay.

The Sabres, however, would be unsuccessful despite all the powerplay dominance they’ve had this year.

Once again, there has been a void of action as the Sabres seem to have accepted defeat and the Leafs, in turn, easing off the gas pedal. A dangerous situation for the Leafs though – the emotion will pick up for the Sabres soon as the clock winds down.

In the final minute the period, Jack Eichel streaks down the ice and beats Andersen for the Sabres’ second goal of the game. But that would be the final score. 4-2 for the Maple Leafs.

Final thoughts

The Leafs were very clearly the more dominant team tonight. The whole team looked dangerous, and were defensively solid save for one or two lapses. Certainly not a measuring stick game against as the win took advantage of a tired and not very good Sabres club. But still, an encouraging sight to see the Leafs on top of their game when they needed to be.

So many players were good tonight it’s hard to pick just three, so I’m going to go with my instinct here:

  1. Auston Matthews
  2. William Nylander
  3. James Van Riemsdyk

The Leafs inch ever closer to clinching a playoff spot with this win tonight. Catch them in action again tomorrow against Washington at 7:30PM Eastern Time. Goodnight, and go Leafs.

    • Harte of a Lion

      It showed great poise and restraint for the Leafs to turn the other cheek tonight. BarelyComments, hockey players have very long memories and I’m certain Martin or someone else will deal with him during the team’s first meeting next season. Hopefully Martin punches that sneer off his face. I’d love to see Kadri knock O’Rielly around as well. Dirty player who tends to “Subban” when he isn’t the biggest player in a fight. Ontario courts should have bit*h slapped him for leaving the scene after hitting a Tim Hortens (a Canadian iconic institution) while DUI.

    • The Russian Rocket

      Yeah, that shot to Andersen’s head was pretty dumb by Kane but it’s not surprising, the guy doesn’t seem to have a track record of making good decisions. I Imagine the Leaf’s bench missed that head tap/punch by Kane because I’m sure Martin would have wanted to send a message. Although, with Kane’s boxing background and some of the fights he’s had, it probably wouldn’t be worth the risk. Just leaving him in Buffalo is punishment enough, I’m sure.

  • jimithy

    Seeing the Leafs get beaten to the puck for most of the game was disappointing. Fortunately the Sabres never capitalized. The next game against Washington will probably break the record for the number of times the Leafs ice the puck in one game. Practice makes perfect.

    • FlareKnight

      What game were you watching? The first period was so one-sided it was hilarious to watch. The second Buffalo make a bit of a charge (especially after the goal), but the Leafs took over again there too. And even in the third they had control of the puck most of the time.

    • Capt.Jay

      oh my Gog jimithy you’re so right. The shot count of 47 to 23 for the Leafs proves your point. They didn’t play well at all. What else can you tell us as you troll for comments.

    • Harte of a Lion

      Jimidiot, every comment you make leads me to wonder, do you say these things to simply get a reaction are are you really this stupid? I’d like to think the former however if LeafsNation were to do a survey of the commenters, assuredly the latter would win almost unanimously as your vote would be the sole vote for the former.
      Ice the puck? I’d like to ice you….heheh
      Go Leafs!

    • getrdone

      Toronto outshot Buffalo 45-22, that should give even the most novice viewer an insight into how this game went. In the first period alone even if Buffalo had capitalized as you say jimmyjunior the would still be loosing since they were outshot 14-2.

    • Stan Smith

      It is plays like this that make people cringe when it comes to Gardiner. He is actually having a great season under Babcock and has been the Leafs best Dman overall this season, but it is those brain fart moments that stand out in our heads. At least they are fewer and farther apart these days.

  • Bill-Burford

    The team can be damned proud of what they have done this season.It’s been an entertaining year and records are being broken as these kids deserve them.The only question I have after the Saber’s first goal is will Gardiner ever ever throw a hit LOL?It really didn’t matter but it would have been nice to see.On to the Capitals here’s hoping they can do it again.

    • Drapes55

      That shorty by O’Reilly made Gardiner look like a rookie call up in his first ever game in the big leagues. So many mistakes on one play it was hard to watch. First off standing still waiting for the puck to come to him with a hulking forward coming at full speed. Then instead of throwing a hit or trying to angle him off he pivots away from him allowing O’Reilly more time and space to pick the far corner on Andersen. Jake never even put a stick close to the puck the whole rush. It plays like this that make me bang my head against the wall because this is stuff you’re taught in like peewee, it’s basic defence 101, be decisive, either pinch or back up and when you pivot always, ALWAYS, turn into the guy not away from him!

      • DukesRocks

        The problem on the Buffalo goal was O’Reilly used his speed to deceive Gardner. By the time Gardner realized O’Reilly would get passed him, he turned to the direction his feet were pointed. It would take an extra move to complete the reverse “C”. “C” is in reference to the half circles you make when you skate backward. If he had waited to complete the reverse “C”, he would have lost a step and O’Reilly would cut past him. The problem with the play was Gardner being nonchalant and giving O’Reilly the boards. He should have stayed closer to the boards and forced O’Reilly to cut into open ice or checked along the boards. A brain fart to say the least, I’m sure Babs will address this on the next video session. My main problem with Gardner is his lack of physicality. He seems to be afraid of confrontation and therefore avoids it. The soon he realizes, HE WILL NOT GET HURT if things escalate the better. As a defenseman you have to play with an edge and confrontation is part of the job. He has to channel his inner nastiness and bring it come playoff time or he’ll be a target for sure.

        • Bill-Burford

          I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when Babcock had his say.I have a feeling Gardiner’s days in Toronto will come to an end if he continues to play like that regardless of his offensive side.

        • Drapes55

          I completely agree with the second half of your post, Gardiner is very soft out there and unless that changes he will never fully reach his potential as a great defenseman. As for the first part, Gardiner saw O’Reilly coming and did nothing to stop or impede him whatsoever. O’Reilly did not surprise Gardiner by all of a sudden hitting a speed burst button and blowing around him, Gards has to see that coming and diagnose the play better, either pinch up and take a hit to make a play or back off and force O’Reilly wide and not allow a good shot on net. Gardiner did the right thing not giving up the middle of the ice but never used his positioning to his advantage unfortunately. All in all, it was a weaker goal by Andersen but it could have been completely avoided by better decision making by Gardiner

          • DukesRocks

            The vidio clip is actually above in this article. You can see Gardiner is caught flat footed as O’Reilly dashes past me (change of speed), causing him to scramble. This was mostly due to him being nonchalant. The second part is his path while skating backwards. Pause the vid and see the distance he is from the boards as O’Reilly is skating past hime. Agree Andersen let in a soft goal, however if Gardiner played the man right, there would have been no goal.

  • DukesRocks

    Sweet move and pass by Nylander on Mathews goal. Agree with the broadcasters this game could have been 6 zip in the first 10 minutes. I was surprised we never saw a retaliation with all of Kane’s antics. I guess Babs warned Martin and Boyle to let it be. I love the Kadri goal, right after getting beat-up in front of the net. Overall I’ve enjoyed all our rookies and not taking anything away from Anderson… Kadri for me is the MVP of the team. He’s played a complete game mixing physicality and skill at both ends of the ice. Yeah, there’ve been a few games here or there he may have disappointed but he rises up for big game and tonight was a big game. Look forward to watching the Buds tomorrow try and maintain our position in 2nd place.

    • Harte of a Lion

      DukeRocks, to see Willy deke around the Sabres defender then pass it to himself off the boards at full speed before making a tape to tape pass onto Matthews stick while being pressured by two Sabres was a thing of beauty. Most players couldn’t make that play in practice at half speed. Willy has the tools to be a star for the next decade.
      Another note: If anyone has a chance to read any articles about Alex Nylander’ call up, most Sabres writers think that Alex has the skill set to play in the NHL but that same skill set doesn’t translate to the AHL and his mediocre season is no reflection on his ability to make the jump to the Sabres. Most feel he is as good as big brother Willy or perhaps even better with his size and abilities.
      Alex definitely has talent however most players should earn their pro roster spot. What is most amusing is that no one mentioned how Willy shredded the AHL thereby earning his promotion. I guess 9-18-27/62 games is equal to or better than 14-18-32/37 games, both as 18 year olds…
      I feel sorry for Alex having to play his career there although with Tim Murray at the helm, Alex could be traded for the Sabres next quick fix (see Ryan O’Rielly)

      • DukesRocks

        Yeah, watching Nylander on the Mathews goal was a thing of beauty. I was surprised Buffalo called up the younger Nylander (Alex). Maybe they were looking for an edge or maybe because they were on a back to back. I wouldn’t read too much into Alex’s stats in the AHL, the team he plays for sucks. I’ve seen him play about 20 times overall with the Steelheads, WJC and the Americans… the kid’s elite. Funny thing was during the 2016 draft I was hoping the Leafs found a way to trade for Tkachuk or Nylander. It pissed me off some that Buffalo drafted him. Fuk’n Buffalo always stirring the pot.

  • lukewarmwater

    Auston Moses Matthews to quote Alicia Keyes is on FIRE. Another solid road win, wait a minute with those thousands and thousands of well dressed fans in blue and white cheering Go leafs Go , it was obviously a home game, played in that Buffalo barn. What can we say about slick William and that sick pass to Auston. J.V.R. picking up tips from the Calder cup winner on how to quickly release the shot when the puck is on your stick.
    But it was Kadri who made the night taking all that crap in front of the Sabre net and then scoring. Polite enough after the goal to have some kind words to the sweaty wrestling Sabre players. Yes I can read lips.
    I too give our tough guys credit for ignoring the Sabre thugs especially that punk Kane who the Jets were smart enough to get rid of. As others have stated a fine exhibition game next year will be the appropriate time to take care of the goof. I apologise for the fact that he is from God’s country.
    I will also agree that the younger Nylander has the skills of his brother but is in a classless organisation and how often in all sports have we seen a great talent ruined by a bush league owner, and poor management.
    Another tough game tonight but this young, entertaining, exciting leaf team can see the finish line and for my fellow old timers out there, the leafs will not be doing the John Landy and turning their head to look over their shoulder to have Roger Bannister roar by him. I’m referring to the famous under 4 minute mile race held in Vancouver in 1954 at the British Empire games in which for the first time two athletes in one race ran under 4 minutes. They have a statue of the two on a track oval where the games were held. I jog this route and I have Landy turning his head as I roar by him but I can’t get Bannister to turn his head yet as my senior citizen legs turn into high gear.

  • jimithy

    The Leafs inability to figure out how to play the game of hockey in their own zone decade after decade is demeaning to the NHL in general and in particular to the game itself. Not being able to exit their own zone with the puck is an insult to the fan, especially considering the price of a seat at the ACC. Icing the puck when under pressure is actually cheating. If this happened once in awhile OK, but doing it decade after decade, game after game only points out the utter sham of leadership upstairs. There is no other team that resorts so often to this disgusting means of relieving the pressure than your Leafs. Bad coaching, scouting and thinking. There should be a penalty shot allowed after three icings. And a penalty after four lobbings. What do you think guys? Tonight against Washington I predict the Lobbing Leafs will break their all time record for icing the puck.

  • Stan Smith

    I wondered how in heck the Leafs managed to come out of that last goal by Kadri down a man. Not even counting the three cross checks and slashes that Kadri took before he scored the goal I couldn’t see any way they could come out shorthanded on the exchange. I see know looking at the boxscore that Kadri got a 2 minute unsporstsmanlike and Ristolainin got a 10 minute misconduct. Not that it mattered in the end but I wonder how they decided those penalties and what the difference was?