On paper, Tuesday night’s matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs was the 29th game of the regular season for the Sabres. In reality, it certainly felt closer to a game seven in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with both teams bringing the energy, the mixed crowd bringing the heat and a tight battle between division foes.
In the end, it was a thrilling game, but the Sabres dropped the ball with a measly 2.7 seconds remaining in overtime, and Auston Matthews picked up the game-winning goal off a pass from Kaspari Kapanen. The Leafs won 4-3.
The Sabres looked like the better team early on in the game, with 14 shots in the opening period. They had several good chances, including a between-the-legs move by defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen that had all the flash to make a splash - except it didn’t end up in the net.
The Leafs responded with several good chances late in the first, but Buffalo ultimately doubled them in shots. The Sabres also lost Casey Nelson early in the game to injury; he went off to the locker room hunched over and didn’t return. That left Buffalo with just five defensemen for a large portion of the game and could spell an AHL call-up to come.
Despite the excitement of the first period, it would take until 8:33 of the second period for either team to notch a goal. It was Auston Matthews striking first for his 14th goal of the season.
The Sabres responded within a few short minutes, as Sam Reinhart tipped a shot from Nathan Beaulieu at the point to tie the game at one.
Although the fast pace of the game kept going, the Leafs struck again before the end of the second period, with Jake Gardiner potting his second of the season.
Captain Jack Eichel then scored twice in the third period to keep up the Sabres’ momentum. First, he slapped home this shot off a pass from Rasmus Ristolainen:
Risto with the #LetsGoBuffalo ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/oUC7LCwuoz— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 5, 2018
Just over the midway point of the third period, Eichel struck again for his seventh goal of the season to make it 3-2 in favor of Buffalo. He capitalized on a turnover and shot it through three Leafs players into the back of the net.
The Sabres, however, couldn’t maintain the lead. Patrick Marleau would tie the game with just over five minutes to play in regulation, and the teams headed to overtime.
Linus Ullmark made several incredible saves throughout the game, including in overtime. But with 2.7 seconds left on the clock, the Sabres gave Kapanen and Matthews too much space, got caught, and Matthews snagged the game-winner.
Overall, the Sabres outshot the Leafs 41-30. Reinhart notched a goal and assist, while Ristolainen had a pair of assists. Rasmus Dahlin - who NBCSN’s broadcasters were quick to remind us is “only 18!” - saw 29:15 ice time, more than any other skater on either team.
With both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs capturing wins tonight, and the Sabres snagging a point, Buffalo remains third in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the Lightning (43 points) and two points behind the Leafs (40 points).
The Sabres have now dropped four in a row but face a few days off to get things back in shape before hosting the Philadelphia Flyers for a matinee on Saturday, December 8. Tuesday’s game kicked off a four-game home stand that will also see Buffalo host the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes.
Fans will now have to wait a few months to see the Sabres and Leafs face off again; their next matchup isn’t until February 25, in Toronto. They’ll rematch March 2 before meeting in Buffalo on March 20 to finish out the season series.