Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovksi had a goal apiece and Jonas Gustavsson stopped all 32 shots he faced as the Maple Leafs defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre, finishing a perfect homestand with their fourth straight win.
Gustavsson posted his fourth straight win and second shutout in three games.
"I feel good out there," said Gustavsson, who has a .950 save percentage during the win streak. "There’s so little (difference) between winning and losing and letting three or four goals or having a shutout, you’ve really got to be on your toes and keep pushing yourself. You can’t relax just because you had a good run."
"He’s handling pucks, he’s confident," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "He’s making key saves when we need them. He’s playing really well."
Secondary scoring keyed the win for Toronto. The dynamic duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who have combined for 95 points this season, did not hit the scoresheet. Instead, it was the second line of Kulemin, Grabovski and Joey Crabb that did the damage.
Kulemin opened the scoring on the power play, making a nice spin move to pull the puck to his forehand and beat Ryan Miller at 8:22 of the first period. Kulemin then made a slick pass to Grabovski, who broke in and went backhand high glove on Miller to give the Leafs a 2-0 first-period lead, providing all the offense they would need.
Kulemin's goal was just his fifth of the season, well below expectations for a player who scored 30 last season, but he showed signs Tuesday of exiting his season-long funk. In addition to notching his second multi-point game of the year, he stepped up physically with a big open ice hit on Patrick Kaleta in the third period.
Wilson likes what he has seen from Kulemin lately.
"All around he’s been getting the job done," Wilson said of the 25-year old forward. "Killing penalties, blocked shots, gets pucks out, forechecks hard. … (Tonight he) buried a power-play opportunity, made a nice play on the Grabovski goal and that big hit on Kaleta to crown the whole night for him."
Grabovski meanwhile, is quietly heating up at the right time, with 3 goals and 5 points on the current homestand.
More good news for the Leafs came on special teams as they notched a power-play goal and did not take a single non-offsetting minor penalty, maintaining a perfect penalty-killing record on the homestand, having only had to kill off two in the last three games.
"It's also led to us being pretty good defensively," Wilson said. "We've got our sticks down, playing defense the way you should, and we're building on it. Before the game you mention some of these things, and during the game the guys are doing all the talking, which is a real positive. They start to feel the momentum that this stuff works and they’re feeling confident with it."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had a different take on the fact that his team received no power plays, and that Kaleta had been penalized for a hit on Grabovski in the third period.
"That was tough to figure out. They had one player who carried the puck a good two strides (Kulemin), they had (Nazem) Kadri who hit our player (Jordan) Leopold in the same fashion (as Kaleta)," Ruff said. "There was calls there I couldn’t figure it out. Kaleta just can't hit anybody anymore. Anytime he hits somebody, it's a penalty."
Nothing went right for the Sabres, who suffered a seventh straight road loss.
"They got the lead, they sat back," Ruff said. "I don’t know if they had more than four or five chances in the last forty minutes, and turned it into a little bit of a dump and chase game for us."
Though the Sabres piled up 32 shots, they created few good scoring chances.
"I've seen stretches where you don't score," said Ruff, whose team has been held to two goals or less in nine of ten games. "This might be my toughest stretch as a coach, where pucks don’t go in the net."
"It's frustrating because we've talked about getting to the net, getting pucks to the net to try and get some more goal scoring," said Miller, who stopped 26 of 28 shots. "And we don't get rewarded with anything tonight. We talked about being hard in front of the net, maybe drawing some penalties, and we don't even get a power play."
It didn't help that Sabres leading goal-scorer Thomas Vanek played only four minutes in the first period and did not return for the second -- an absence Ruff attributed to food poisoning, dismissing an earlier report that Vanek had an upper-body injury.
The Sabres will have a chance for revenge on home ice Friday night as they host the Leafs at the First Niagara Center.
1 - 0 TOR
2 - 0 TOR
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