BUFFALO – Every now and then, a game comes around where both teams are playing for pride. There is no spoiler role and there are few games left in the season before the off-season can begin.
On Wednesday night, the Leafs took on the Sabres. The compete level from both sides to start the game was lacking. It felt like a pre-season game and that was Leafs interim coach’s Peter Horachek’s message to his players during intermission.
“We’re not playing pre-season here, we have to buckle up defensively,” said Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier of Horachek’s words.
Bernier made 27 saves and the Leafs squandered a two-goal lead.
With four games left, the end to the season is on the horizon. It’s impossible for many of the players to push out the feeling.
“Obviously both teams are out of the playoffs, I guess sometimes it’s tough for both teams to focus on what they want,” said Horachek. “I certainly don’t like that way of playing.”
First Niagara Center has never been a happy place for the Leafs, who have now dropped 15 of their last 17 contests in the Queen City.
There weren’t a lot of hits to get the crowd going, but there were certainly a lot of penalties.
“It was certainly there for the taking,” said Nazem Kadri who registered goals in back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 19-21. “We were just undisciplined, we took five penalties in a row. Whether we deserved them or not, you can’t do that and win.”
The lone power play goal from Buffalo’s Matt Moulson tied the game up at three before Matt Ellis scored the game-winning goal shortly afterward.
The Leafs have given up a power play goal in three consecutive games as their once mighty penalty kill has fallen to 20th in the NHL.
With the end of the season staring back at the Maple Leafs, the focus on finishing strong is slowly slipping away.
Eric Brewer scored his second goal as a Maple Leaf late in the first period. James van Reimsdyk scored the other Toronto goal.
Perhaps tonight was an awakening of sorts. Good character always perseveres during the darkest days and the darkest days could be over soon.
The next four games will prove rather interesting.