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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Sabres - 03/15/18

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Thursday at Key Bank Center:

by Adam Proteau Proteautype /

1. Leafs storm out to early two-goal lead thanks to pair of markers from red-hot van Riemsdyk. The Leafs were playing their second game in as many nights (after a stirring 6-5 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars at Air Canada Centre Wednesday), but they showed no signs of fatigue to start the contest in Buffalo, staking out a 2-0 lead early in the first period.

Both of those goals came from winger James van Riemsdyk - who had a hat trick in the win over Dallas - in the first 6:39 of play. The veteran netted his first of the night Thursday at 3:39 of the opening frame on a high-skill shot from the goal line to the left of Sabres netminder Robin Lehner, then added another exactly three minutes later when Buffalo's defenders left him with all sorts of time and space in front of the net, and he picked the top corner on Lehner.

The two goals were van Riemsdyk's 30th and 31st this season, giving him a new career high in that department (he scored 30 for Toronto in the 2013-14 campaign). He's brimming with confidence at the moment, and he wasn't done producing points on this night, either. 

2. Sabres halve Toronto's lead before first intermission. Toronto hasn't had the greatest experience playing in Buffalo over the years - and dropped their first meeting of the season in a 5-3 loss to the host Sabres March 5 - so it wasn't surprising to see the home team fight back before the first intermission and cut the Leafs' lead in half.

Their first goal was scored by winger Sam Reinhart, who posted his 18th of the year on a Sabres power play with 5:31 left in the period. Reinhart had a goal and two points in Buffalo's previous game against Toronto, and the third-year NHLer now has four goals in his past six games. Buffalo's hopes for the 2018 post-season were dashed some time ago, but the 22-year-old Reinhart has provided hope for the franchise in the years to come.

3. Carrick restores Buds' two-goal advantage to start second-period scoring, and Bozak adds to it on powerplay. At age 23, blueliner Connor Carrick continues to hone his game, and he'd already set career highs in goals (three) and points (nine) this season. But the youngster added to those totals at 6:22 of the second period when his shot from the point made its way through traffic and into Buffalo's net, restoring Toronto's two-goal lead in the process.

And although Buffalo had a strong second frame (outshooting the Leafs 19-8 in the period), the Buds added to their advantage on the power play at the 14:10 mark on centre Tyler Bozak's 11th goal of the year. The primary assist on the marker went to van Riemsdyk, while winger Mitch Marner garnered the secondary assist to give him 40 helpers on the season. Toronto's power play has been stellar of late, and Bozak's goal was its sixth successful man advantage in its past six attempts. The Leafs' penalty kill wasn't having its best night Thursday, but the power play helped the cause.

4. Buffalo produces second power play goal of night to pull within two of Leafs entering third. The two Atlantic Division rivals have always had a healthy dislike of each other, and that enmity was on display as this game unfolded. And that emotion led Toronto to taking five minor penalties in the first 40 minutes of action, including two penalties to centre Nazem Kadri in a 2:24 span late in the second period.

The Leafs' penalty kill prevented Buffalo from scoring on Kadri's first penalty, but on the second one - a cross-checking minor at 17:45 of the second - Sabres blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen's shot from the point was deflected by winger Jason Pominville past Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney with 59 seconds left before the intermission, and the teams entered the third with Toronto up 4-2. Kadri always plays with an emotional edge, but on this occasion, he let his temper get the best of him, and Buffalo capitalized on it.

5. McElhinney puts in another strong performance as Leafs win third in a row. The third period was a goalless frame, thanks in no small part to the performance of McElhinney, who won his second game in two nights (improving his record this season to 9-4-1) after replacing an injured Frederik Andersen against Dallas. McElhinney was calm and resilient as Buffalo tested him repeatedly in the final period, and stopped 38 of 40 shots to give Toronto its third consecutive win.

Forward Patrick Marleau added an empty-net goal with 44 seconds left for the final marker of the evening, and Marleau's two-point night gave him 1,122 regular-season points, moving him into 58th spot among the NHL's list of all-time point-getters. All in all, it was a solid showing from the Leafs, who'll have a day off Friday before hosting the Montreal Canadiens Saturday at ACC.

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