TORONTO - Connor Carrick
went nearly 900 days between NHL goals.
Carrick scored for the second time in a week on Saturday evening to give the Maple Leafs their fourth win in the past six games, 4-1 over the Buffalo Sabres. Toronto also avoided official elimination from the post-season by picking up the two points at the Air Canada Centre.
William Nylander, Martin Marincin and Milan Michalek also scored for the Leafs (25-35-11). Brian Gionta landed the only goal for the Sabres (29-34-10).
Garret Sparks made 20 saves for Toronto, while Chad Johnson stopped 27-of-31 shots for Buffalo.
Carrick scored the go-ahead goal with less than seven minutes gone in the third period, the 22-year-old stepping into a shot from the point that beat Johnson. Marincin added an insurance marker a short while later, his first goal as a Leaf and first in 62 games, and Michalek chipped in with a goal 1:14 after Marincin.
The divisional affair got especially heated in the third frame. Leafs centre Nazem Kadri and Sabres defenceman Mark Pysyk tussled after one early whistle, both teams drew matching penalties in the aftermath. Sabres forward Nicolas Deslauriers was also dealt a 10-minute misconduct.
Then later in the period Zach Hyman's hit on defenceman Jake McCabe drew the ire of Zach Bogosian, furiously searching out the Leafs rookie for some words and shoving. Both players drew penalties (Hyman for boarding, Bogosian for roughing) as did P.A. Parenteau and Marcus Foligno, who traded physical and verbal jousts.
Toronto controlled play all evening, beginning with an opening frame in which Buffalo had the lone goal.
The Leafs outshot the Sabres 11-3 and held them without a shot for the final 13 minutes of the period.
A one-time 48-goal scorer, Gionta showed some of that old flash on the game's opening goal. The Buffalo captain capitalized on a turnover by Leafs defenceman Rinat Valiev, whipping a shot shortside and beyond the left shoulder of Sparks.
It was the 10th goal this season for Gionta.
The Leafs evened the score at one in the second.
Parenteau found Nylander all alone in the slot seconds after a power play ended, and the former first-round pick fired a wrist shot past Johnson. One of the younger players in the league, the 19-year-old has three goals in his first 11 NHL games.
Also adding his first career NHL assist in the win, Nylander was one of 11 players aged 23 and younger in Toronto's lineup. That group also included 20-year-old Frederik Gauthier, who became the ninth Leaf in the past three weeks and 11th this season to make his NHL debut.
"Obviously three years from now we don't want to be doing this," Babcock said of dressing such a youthful lineup, "but right now this is what we're doing and it's a lot of fun."
Thirteen of the 20 Leafs to suit up against the Sabres played at one point in the American Hockey League this season.
A 2013 first-round pick, Gauthier played nearly 12 minutes, won 3 of 11 faceoffs, drew a penalty and had an opportunity to score on a short-handed odd-man rush, opting to pass rather than shoot on a play that was broken up.
Gauthier was recalled on an emergency basis alongside fellow rookie Josh Leivo on Saturday morning. The two were needed with Peter Holland hurting, Brooks Laich out for personal reasons and Leo Komarov still unable to return from an undisclosed injury.
Saturday marked the second of three meetings in March between the Leafs and Sabres with the season series due to conclude in Buffalo on Mar. 31.
Sabres rookie and Calder Trophy candidate Jack Eichel missed his first game this season because of the flu.