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Last gasp for Leafs, who play host to Sabres

by Brian Hunter
SABRES (38-28-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (34-32-10)


Last 10:
Buffalo 6-3-1; Toronto 5-4-1

Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Northeast Division rivals. The Sabres won the first three but the Maple Leafs have taken the last two, including a 4-3 victory at the Air Canada Centre on March 12, with Phil Kessel netting the decisive goal. Kessel leads all scorers with 3 goals.

Big story:
Tuesday's game represents a last-gasp effort for Toronto in its bid to make the playoffs. If the Sabres win in regulation they would take a nine-point lead over the Maple Leafs, who will have just five games remaining. However, if the Leafs win in regulation they would close the deficit to five points and still have a fighting chance, though the Sabres will still hold a game in hand.

Team Scope:

Sabres: It's another chance for Buffalo to deal what would amount to a death blow to one of the teams chasing it in the Eastern Conference race. The Sabres got first-period goals from Nathan Gerbe and Thomas Vanek on Saturday and rode Ryan Miller's flawless, 30-save performance to a 2-0 win over the Devils, who tumbled to double digits in their points deficit. Miller finished the week with three wins, an 0.67 goals-against average and a .976 save percentage, earning NHL first star honors.

"It's nice this time of year to have a little stretch where you're recognized like that, but I guess it kind of depends on the way we've been playing as a team, too," Miller said. "Really paying attention to detail, I think we have good emotion in the game and I think that's exactly what we need this time of year."

Maple Leafs: On the verge of sweeping a three-game road trip and running its overall winning streak to four straight, Toronto hit a roadblock Saturday with a 4-2 loss in Detroit. Nazem Kadri scored his second NHL goal to pull the Maple Leafs into a 1-1 tie in the latter stages of the first period, and Joffrey Lupul evened the score again early in the third. But Jiri Hudler struck just 38 seconds after that for the decisive goal and Todd Bertuzzi added an empty-netter.

"Big loss for our team in the standings, but we have to respond," captain Dion Phaneuf said.

Who's hot: Miller has been getting better and better as the season's gone along. He's 4-0-1 in his last five starts for the Sabres with a pair of shutouts and has allowed two goals or fewer in five of his last six. Gerbe has 5 goals in as many games. … Lupul has 2 goals and 1 assist during a three-game points streak for the Maple Leafs. Kessel has 1 goal and 3 assists during a four-game points streak.

Injury report: Buffalo will have to do without defenseman Jordan Leopold for the rest of the regular season after breaking his left hand in Friday's game against Florida. Goalie Patrick Lalime and forward Patrick Kaleta are out indefinitely with knee injuries. … Toronto is missing forwards Colton Orr (concussion) and Colby Armstrong (broken foot).

Stat pack: Thomas Vanek leads the Sabres with 64 points, the same total he finished with in two of the previous three seasons. His career high of 84 points came during the 2006-07 season. … The Maple Leafs have a four-way race going for their scoring lead, as Kessel has 57 points but is followed closely behind by Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur with 56 apiece and Nikolai Kulemin with 54 points.

Puck drop:
MacArthur is a former teammate of Miller's and highlighted Toronto's plan to put a dent in the reigning Vezina Trophy winner's armor. Miller has 24 wins in 34 career decisions against the Maple Leafs.

"He is playing great hockey for them, but we want to get traffic and make sure he stays in the crease," MacArthur told the Toronto Sun. "When he comes out and cuts the angles, that's when he is really good. We want to keep him backed up in the net as much as possible and put the pucks there."

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