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Leafs Try To Break Sabres Jinx

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

SABRES (21-10-3) at MAPLE LEAFS (13-16-7)

Last 10: Buffalo 6-3-1; Toronto 6-4-0.

Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings between the clubs this season. The Sabres are 3-0 in the season series so far, including a 5-2 win in Buffalo this past Friday.

Big Story: A matchup of the first place team in the Northeast Division (Buffalo) against the last place team in the Northeast Division (Toronto). The Leafs are coming off a 2-0 win over Boston on Saturday while Buffalo lost to Pittsburgh in a shootout, 2-1, also on Saturday. However, Toronto has not been able to solve the Sabres or Ryan Miller. Buffalo scored four unanswered goals in the second period and five straight to win Friday's game. The Sabres have won the last eight meetings in this rivalry.

Team Scope:

Sabres: After winning four straight games, the Sabres have lost two of their last three, but their offense has gone astray in both losses. Miller didn't get any help in a 2-0 shutout loss to Ottawa and Patrick Lalime was sharp in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins. Miller has owned the Leafs. He's allowed only four goals against 115 shots in three games this season. He stopped all 38 shots for a 2-0 win on Nov. 30, one of his four shutouts. For his career he's now 20-7 against the Leafs, including a 5-1 mark last season. Ten Sabres have combined for 11 goals against the Leafs this season. Only Tim Connolly has two. Thomas Vanek sat out of Saturday's game with an abdominal injury.

"If there is a secret to beating (Miller), 29 other coaches in the League haven't figured it out either," Leafs coach Ron Wilson told the Toronto Star.

Maple Leafs: The Monster is back and Leafs fans are hopeful again, especially after goalie Jonas Gustavsson, a.k.a. "The Monster," picked up his first NHL shutout in Saturday's 2-0 win over Boston. He stopped 25 shots to snap a two-game losing streak that was largely a result of Vesa Toskala's subpar goaltending. Toskala had won four of his last five starts, but he allowed nine goals over roughly 90 minutes before being pulled halfway through last Friday's game in Buffalo. Gustavsson, who hadn't played since Dec. 1 due to his second minor heart procedure this season, has stopped 41 of 42 shots since returning in place of Toskala. Matt Stajan didn't practice Sunday after getting whacked with an open-ice hit by Boston's Johnny Boychuk. The hit didn't draw a penalty, but the Leafs thought it was a head shot. Stajan had a cut just below his right eye.

"I saw him last-second, but all the impact is on my head," Stajan said. "He kind of jumped at me. I'm just trying to chip it by him and he threw himself at me. I thought he jumped at me and went right at my head."

Who's Hot: For the Sabres, Miller has been hot all season as he leads the League with a .937 save percentage, 1.89 goals-against average and four shutouts. Among the skaters, nobody has been particularly scorching of late, but that's been the case all season. They have been spreading it out pretty good. For the Leafs, Gustavsson is feeling good and Tomas Kaberle, the team's leading scorer with 32 points, picked up his first point in four games Saturday with his third goal of the season.

Injury Report: The Sabres may again be without Vanek (abdominal injury) while Chris Butler (ankle) and Nathan Gerbe (groin) are both likely out. Stajan missed practice Sunday, but says he will play. Carl Gunnarsson (elbow), Mike Van Ryn (knee) and John Mitchell (lower body) are all still out.

Stat Pack: The Sabres haven't lost to the Maple Leafs since a 2-1 decision in Buffalo on Dec. 12, 2008. They haven't lost in Toronto in 23 months. The last time was a 4-2 Leafs' victory on Jan. 19, 2008. … Buffalo is just 3-for-45 on the power play in the last 11 games and just 1-for-26 over the last five games. The Sabres were 0-for-8 Saturday against the Penguins, dropping to 27th in the NHL in power play success (16.2 percent)

Puck Drop: "Half-speed against the Penguins would be no good," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told the Buffalo News on Saturday in regards to Vanek's groin injury. "We'll get him healthy, get him ready. It could be Monday. It could be Wednesday (at Washington). It might be afterward. It's just got to work its way out."

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