It's never a good feeling to lose to a team beneath you in the standings, especially when that team is the Toronto Maple Leafs. After falling in Toronto two weeks ago, and catching some flak for it, the Sabres took out their frustrations tonight, dominating the Leafs from end to end in an impressive 4-1 victory.
Tonight's game started with the line of Johan Larsson, Marcus Foligno, and Brian Gionta coming out like a ball of fire. They started the game with strong shifts every time they were on the ice, and opened the scoring seven minutes into the game thanks to a sweet snipe from Johan Larsson, who scored his eighth of the year by rifling the puck over the shoulder of Leafs goalie Garret Sparks.
That line wasn't done, however, as they stayed on the ice after Larsson's goal and immediately drew a penalty. The Sabres wouldn't score on that power play, but they did convert on their second power play later in the period. Cal O'Reilly put the puck right where Larsson did after executing a give-and-go with Jack Eichel, and the Sabres were up 2-0. Even sweeter, his brother Ryan assisted Cal's goal.
For the first time in their NHL careers the O'Reilly's have hooked up for a goal.— Paul Hamilton (@pham1717) March 31, 2016
After another strong start, the big question was: Will the Sabres suffer another second period meltdown? And the good news is no, they did not. In fact, the Sabres controlled most of the second, pouring 17 more shots on net and increasing their lead to 3-0 with another CORgoal from Cal O'Reilly. The Leafs would manage to finish strong in the period, and got themselves on the board with a Brooks Laich goal later in the period.
The second also featured a bizarre series of events that begun when the Sabres (and some fans) thought they scored their fourth goal of the game, but it was immediately waived off by the refs. A review was called for by the refs/league, and the goal was waived off because of incidental contact on Sparks by Hudson Fasching, who was barely nudged by the Leafs defender. Dan Bylsma challenged that ruling, but lost the second replay review as well. Then, in the NHL's official explanation of the review, they said that incidental contact can't be challenged in the first place. All in all it was almost ten minutes of confusion in the arena, and it seems like even the refs didn't fully understand the rules. Can't see anything wrong with this system!
The third period was a bit light on the action, as the Sabres predictably were interested in defending their two-goal lead, but we did see an Eichel breakaway (he missed) and a successful penalty kill late (6-on-4). The real excitement came with three seconds left, when Johan Larsson rifled home an empty net goal, and was immediately jumped on by Nazem Kadri. The two brawled for a moment until the refs separated them and Jake McCabe came flying in guns blazing to protect his teammate. It was a memorable way to end the season series for the two long-time rivals, and just makes us hungry for next season already.
With their win tonight, a few milestones were reached - the Sabres are now 17-1-1 in their last 19 home games against the Leafs. Tonight was also Chad Johnson's 20th win of the season, as well as Cal O'Reilly's first two-goal game of his NHL career. Also, perhaps most meaningfully, this win makes it impossible for the Sabres to finish in 30th place this year.
1. Will Evander Kane play tonight (again)?
No, and he won't ever play hockey again...this season. Kane's injury would have kept him out 2-3 weeks, but with just four games left in the campaign, the Sabres decided to officially shut him down earlier today.
2. Can the Sabres show some consistency between periods?
Yes, tonight was a far more consistent effort that saw a superior Sabres team take it to the Marlies/Leafs squad and they did not let up in the second. The third period saw them pull back a bit, but it wasn't like they went in to full turtle mode. All in all a very solid 60 minutes from the Sabres, something we don't often get to see.
3. What will tomorrow's snarky rebuilding column look like?
Just post the photo of Kermit drinking tea and be done with it.
Comment of the Game
Check out last year's game 78 roster