One game offers only two points in the standings, but it can become the source of a turnaround and influence an organization. Hockey nights in Toronto can be mundane, some are underwhelming but, every now and again, an exquisite comeback and a finale occur that should live long in the memory of a fan.
Buffalo, falling behind yet again to goals from Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, put forth a gutsy effort to force a shootout and carve out a desperately desired win. Patrick Lalime allowed a dubiously soft game-winning goal to Benoit Pouliot and the Montreal Canadiens the previous night, and Lindy Ruff decided to throw Jhonas Enroth his third career NHL start. The young Swede did well to repay his coach's confidence.
Clarke MacArthur's first period breakaway was foiled by Enroth who didn't fall for the backhand deke, and that would be a re-occurring theme as the match progressed. Grabovski wired a deflected shot from the blue line with 16 seconds remaining to send the Sabres into the dressing room down 1-0. With a team as fragile as Buffalo, the late marker could have caused panic and doubt.
Toronto began the second frame in a positive manner and Tyler Ennis endured a testing shift by first being slew-footed by Luca Caputi - unnoticed to the officials - and then getting lined up by Mike Komisarek seconds later. Steve Montador stepped in to defend his much smaller teammate, grappling with his foe. A broken stick from Derek Roy caused him to be helpless and as the forward failed to kick the puck out of the zone, Grabovski neatly found Kulemin who flashed his terrific wrist shot for Toronto's second.
A lifeline for the Sabres was found when Roy swatted a puck out of the air to halve the deficit. Like Grabovski's tally, this one happened in the dying minutes. Quietly, the final period went by with Buffalo controlling possession mostly, but Enroth was razor sharp when he saw shots come his way. Pulling the goaltender, they poured on the pressure in the last minute of regulation and Toronto's shot blocking protected J.S Giguere.
Montador tried his luck again and Roy's deflection forced Giguere into an acrobatic save before Jochen Hecht banked in the equalizing rebound. The clock read 13.1 seconds, and overtime lied ahead. Enroth's blocker shoved off a high Kris Versteeg shot and Tomas Kaberle swept a loose puck out of the crease in Buffalo's best opportunity.
In the shootout, Versteeg and Jason Pominville both started with unsuccessful five-hole attempts. Phil Kessel's quick release was snagged by the glove of Enroth and after Thomas Vanek squeezed his try inside the post, John Mitchell calmly executed the maneuver that MacArthur couldn't earlier. Five shooters later, one rookie provided another with his first National Hockey League victory. Tyler Ennis' quick hands were too much to keep up with and Giguere's poke-check tripped him, but he still lifted his shot into the net.
Exactly two weeks separated this win from Buffalo's previous and the resulting joy was astounding for the group, ending a losing streak, while pleasing their 22-year-old netminder with his first taste of glory. Old habits forced them into playing catch-up, but then came the remarkable comeback. One game doesn't change what's been a disappointing month for the Buffalo Sabres, however, it's a step in the right direction. You have to start somewhere.
Man Of The Match: Jhonas Enroth. Unrattled by the bright lights of Toronto for 65 minutes and the shootout, Enroth was sublime and will not be blamed for either of the goals. Ryan Miller's injury and Lalime's questionable methods played a hand in his opportunity, but don't be deceived, Enroth preserved the contest for Buffalo. His confidence will grow and so too will the rest of the squad's hopefully.
Flop Of The Match: Tyler Myers. Continues to look rough around the edges without the services of Henrik Tallinder on his opposite side. Simple plays such as protecting the puck or reading the play have been hurting the sophomore. Was undecided on how to play Kulemin, guarding the passing lane and at the same time, allowing far too much space for a close shot.