April 3, 2006TORONTO (CP)
-- The Buffalo Sabres had just clinched their first playoff berth since 2001 but Lindy Ruff was in no mood to celebrate.
The Buffalo head coach was steaming after a 3-2 shootout win over the Maple Leafs over what he felt was a knee-on-knee hit from Toronto's Darcy Tucker on Jochen Hecht, which knocked the Sabres winger out of the game midway through the third period.
|Aubin was spectacular again on Monday. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
"It was a cheap shot, it was a knee on knee hit,'' said an emotional Ruff. "He knocked our guy out of the lineup for several weeks.''
Ruff said Hecht could miss the playoffs and wants NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell to deliver some justice.
"I want him suspended. I want him fined. I'll go to the hearing if I have to,'' said Ruff.
The play began with Sabres winger Mike Grier levelling Tucker with a clean but massive hit just inside the Leafs blue-line. Tucker got up and lined up the next closest Sabre at centre ice, which happened to be Hecht. The Sabres forward had just returned from missing nine games with a right knee injury but injured his left knee on the hit by Tucker.
"He drove on Hecht, took out his knee, went after his head,'' said Ruff. "It's a joke, an absolute joke. Watch the video and you'll see it.''
Neither Hecht or Tucker were around to comment.
The Sabres got some payback when Maxim Afinogenov scored the only goal of the shootout and dropped Toronto to eight points out of a playoff spot after Tampa's 4-1 win over Florida on Monday night.
Afinogenov and Derek Roy also scored in regulation time as the Sabres avenged a 7-0 loss to the Leafs on Saturday in the first of back-to-back games at the Air Canada Centre.
The Sabres could also have clinched with a loss by the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday, but they preferred to do it by downing the Leafs.
"We wanted to get it on our own, we wanted to clinch by winning,'' said star centre Daniel Briere.
Matt Stajan and callup John Pohl scored for the Maple Leafs (35-32-7), who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime but fell to 3-6 on the year in the shootout.
"This is when the shootout sucks, when you don't win it,'' said Stajan.
Despite a solid effort, the Leafs can ill-afford to give away points with only eight games remaining in the regular season. New Jersey (87 points), Tampa Bay (85) and Montreal (85) occupy the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference while Atlanta (78 points), Florida (77) and Toronto (77) all suffered damaging losses Monday night with only two weeks remaining in the regular season.
"It doesn't seem like any of those three teams ever lose these days,'' said Stajan. "Tampa won again tonight. It's too bad we're in this situation. A turnaround in January would have been nice. But we can't look back now.''
Martin Biron, with 31 saves, was sharp in goal for the Sabres (46-23-6), who entered the game with only one win in their last nine (1-7-1). Biron stopped Mats Sundin, Tucker and Alexei Ponikarovsky in the shootout to get the extra point for Buffalo.
J.S. Aubin made 34 saves and was named the game's first star but dropped his first game in a Leafs uniform after winning his first three starts.
The Sabres, as one might expect, came out with fire in their belly in the first period, outshooting the Leafs 13-7 and enjoying most of the puck possession.
Roy scored the only goal of the opening period, making it 1-0 at 4:01 when he banked a rebound from the back boards into a vacated net just as a Sabres power play expired.
Buffalo kept pouring on the pressure in the early part of the second period and Afinogenov doubled his team's lead when he one-timed a bouncing rebound from the slot past a helpless Aubin at 10:22 during a Sabres power-play.
Pohl gave the Leafs hope when he one-timed Sundin's perfect pass in front and beat Biron with a shot through the five-hole at 11:57. The goal jump-started the Leafs, who delivered their first real sustained pressure of the game and outshot the visitors 9-7 for the period.
Toronto continued to press in the third period, outshooting Buffalo 15-10, and it paid off when Stajan tied 2-2 just as a Leafs power play expired at 12:40 of the third period, bringing 19,320 fans to their feet when he jammed a rebound past a sprawled Biron.
Notes: The Sabres improved the season record against Toronto to 5-1-1 with the final game set for April 16 at Buffalo ... Star Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe has now gone four games without a single point. He has only one assist in six games ... Veteran defenceman Teppo Numminen (knee) missed another game for the Sabres. Forwards Thomas Vanek, Jiri Novotny, Jason Pominville and Taylor Pyatt were all healthy scratches, the highly touted Vanek in particular being sent a message after the rookie's poor effort in Saturday's loss. Star centre Daniel Briere was back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension for a high-sticking incident with Boston's Brian Leetch. His linemate Jochen Hecht was also back after missing nine games with a knee injury ... Forward Nik Antropov missed the game for Toronto with the flu. Pohl was recalled from the AHL Marlies and took his place in the lineup ... The Leafs next play Wednesday at home against Islanders before playing Boston on Thursday.