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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Sabres - 04/03/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Monday at KeyBank Center:

by Adam Proteau Proteautype / MapleLeafs.com

Leafs net three in under a minute

TOR@BUF: Maple Leafs strike three times in 43 seconds

Leo Komarov tallies in close before Auston Matthews and James van Riemsdyk strike eight seconds apart, giving the Maple Leafs an early 3-0 lead

  • 01:11 •

1.   Leafs take commanding lead early in first after three-goal burst in 43-second span. As the Leafs continue to push to secure a post-season spot, they returned to Buffalo - where they'd fallen to the Sabres 5-2 on March 25 - and Toronto looked intent on revenge right from the opening faceoff. And Buffalo had no answer for them early on, leading to an offensive outburst by the Buds in just 43 seconds that put the visitors ahead by three goals.

The first of them came at 4:29 of the first period from Leo Komarov (with his 14th of the season), who was set up beautifully by centre Nazem Kadri after a poor Sabres zone-clearing attempt. Thirty-five seconds later, centre Auston Matthews scored his team-leading 39th goal of the year, setting a new franchise record for points by a rookie (67) and tying the team's rookie record for consecutive games with a goal (five games). And eight seconds after that, winger James van Riemsdyk extended the lead with his 26th of the year, putting him four goals away from tying his personal-best of 30 set in 2013-14. 

The offensive explosion gave the Leafs a commanding lead after one period - a period in which they outshot their opponent 18-2 and forced Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma to replace starting goalie Robin Lehner with Anders Nilsson - and sent an early message: they were not going to allow the Sabres to set the tone in this contest.

2.   Sabres strike at start of second on shorthanded marker. The Sabres were frustrated as the first frame unfolded, and just as the final buzzer ended the period, Buffalo winger Marcus Foligno was assessed a cross-checking penalty on Kadri. However, the Leafs failed to capitalize on the ensuing power play at the beginning of the second - and with nine seconds left in the penalty, Buffalo got on the scoreboard via centre Ryan O'Reilly's shorthanded goal and 20th of the year. 

O'Reilly had a goal and two points in the Leafs' and Sabres' previous showdown, and Monday's goal gave the veteran at least 20 goals for the third time in his eight-year NHL career.

 

Video: TOR@BUF: Kadri buries tight-angle shot for PPG

3.   Kadri adds to Toronto's lead with power play goal. The Leafs received their third man advantage of the night at the 4:21 mark of the third period, and Kadri netted his 31st goal of the season 1:29 into the power play to make it 4-1 in Toronto's favour.

Kadri's two-point night gave him 10 points in his past 10 games, and 60 points in 78 games - 10 points better than his previous career-best in a single season. Winger Mitch Marner earned the primary assist on the goal, giving him 42 helpers and 60 points in his first NHL year. And best of all, the scoring play restored the Leafs' three-goal lead in a game that grew nastier as every second ticked off the game clock.

4.   Eichel scores in final minute, but Leafs dominate in shots and on scoreboard. Buffalo centre Jack Eichel scored his 24th goal of the season at 19:04 of the third, but it was a case of too little, too late for the Sabres - and for the Leafs, the win was their fourth in a row.

Toronto scored only one goal after the first period, but their defence clamped down and they outshot the Sabres by a better than 2:1 ratio (45-22) overall. This was the final showdown of the season between the two clubs, who clearly do not enjoy each other's company. But their rivalry is likely to grow in the years ahead as both young teams develop.

5.   Leafs end road portion of season schedule strongly, now prepare for four-game homestand against talented opponents. Toronto finished the road part of their 2016-17 schedule Monday, posting a 19-14-8 mark away from Air Canada Centre. That's a huge improvement on their 15-24-2 road record last season, but the Leafs don't have time to sit back and admire their improvement. Despite re-taking second place in the Atlantic Division with Monday's win, the Buds head home to play the NHL's best team - the Washington Capitals - Tuesday at the ACC, and then host Tampa Bay Thursday, Pittsburgh Saturday and Columbus Sunday to complete their regular season. 

All four teams will present a stiff challenge to the Leafs, but they've been faced with those type of challenges all year and have responded well. That said, head coach Mike Babcock understands his team's efforts will have to continue to ramp up in the days ahead as the pressure mounts prior to the playoffs. Nothing less than a complete effort will suffice if Toronto wishes to secure home-ice advantage, and Babcock will be pushing his players to do so.

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