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Leafs damage Sabres' playoff hopes with 4-3 win

by Neil Acharya
TORONTO -- Thanks to a fresh face in net, the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a franchise-record 11 game victory drought at home and blew a hole in the Buffalo Sabres' playoff hopes.

Ben Scrivens, recalled from the AHL Toronto Marlies because both of the Leafs' regular goaltenders are injured, stopped 29 shots as the Maple Leafs hung on to beat the Sabres 4-3 on Saturday night for their first victory at Air Canada Centre since Feb. 6.

The loss, combined with Washington's 3-2 shootout win against Montreal, dropped the Sabres two points behind the Capitals in the race for eighth place in the East. Both teams have three games remaining. Buffalo has to finish with more points than the Caps, who will win a tiebreaker because they have more non-shootout wins.

When asked if he was looking up at the out-of-town scoreboard during the game, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff quipped "I was looking higher than that... to the big fella' to help them out," jesting that Buffalo needed divine intervention as the night wore on.

"We made it really tough on ourselves," he added in a more serious vein. "We know where we are at with a depleted defense. We put ourselves in a really tough spot.  We have to play a cleaner game than that."

Sometime between the final horn sounding on Friday's loss to Pittsburgh and Saturday afternoon, Ruff and his coaching staff found out that in addition to losing defenseman Mike Weber, young stalwart Tyler Myers would miss the game due to a foot injury suffered against the Pens. That meant rookies T.J. Brennan and Brayden McNabb -- with a combined 29 games of NHL experience -- had to be pressed into action.

"To try and chase a game with two of our more mobile defenseman out of the lineup that are on the offense side of [things], it's tough to chase," Ruff said. "You're gonna' make some mistakes, you're going to give up some high-quality opportunities."

Toronto hadn't won at home since beating Edmonton 6-3 on Feb. 6. The Leafs were coming off a 7-1 home loss to Philadelphia on Thursday in which rookie Jussi Rynnas had to make his first NHL start when Jonas Gustavsson was injured in warm-ups.

Scrivens, who saw time with the Leafs earlier in the season, kept his composure while the desperate Sabres pressed for the tie in the final period.  

"I just try and come up and give these guys a chance, that's all my job is," he said. "I can't score goals, I can't break the puck out. All I'm trying to do is stop pucks and give them a chance to go the other way."

He played pretty well for a guy who didn't know he was even starting until hours before game time after playing for the Marlies on Friday night

"I played the game last night -- it was a late start and it went into overtime so I didn't actually leave Rochester till 11:30. [Marlies coach] Dallas Eakins pulled me aside and said I was going back up and even then I didn't know that I was playing today or what was up," Scrivens said. "You gotta' focus on the task at hand; last night was Rochester, tonight was Buffalo. We'll see what happens tomorrow."

After Ville Leino's backhander at 6:48 of the third cut the Leafs' lead to 3-2, rookie Matt Frattin scored what proved to be the game-winner at 10:20 of the third period. Frattin scored his seventh of the season, finishing a 3-on-2 rush by converting Clarke MacArthur's pass for a 4-2 lead.

"It was perfect 3-on-2," Frattin said. "Clarke got it wide, Bozak took the far d-Man to the net and I just slipped in behind and Clarke made a nice pass. The biggest thing was just to try to get it around the defenseman and put it on that far side."

Drew Stafford made it close by firing a loose puck past Scrivens with 2:45 remaining and reaching the 20 goal mark for the second time, cutting the margin to 4-3.  The Sabres pushed for the tying goal, but Phil Kessel spoiled one chance by intercepting a pass in his crease and Scrivens stopped a blast by Jordan Leopold one second before the final buzzer.

The Leafs led 1-0 after one period on Joey Crabb's shorthanded goal, then outscored Buffalo 2-1 in the second period to take a 3-1 lead into the dressing room after 4-0 minutes.

The Sabres tied the game 1-1 when Stafford set up Tyler Ennis for his 14th of the season at 10:59 of the second. Stafford chipped the puck past defenseman Jake Gardiner at the Toronto blue line and led a 3-on-2 rush into the offensive zone. Stafford was able to keep one stride ahead of Gardiner before sweeping a pass back to a trailing Ennis, who fired a low shot past Scrivens.

Toronto went ahead at 15:17 when Kessel scored his career-high 37th goal during a power play. From behind the net, Bozak whacked a pass into the corner where Kessel was roving to the right of goaltender Ryan Miller. Kessel was given plenty of room to skate out from the corner boards into shooting position and fired a laser from the circle through the 5-hole past the Sabres netminder.

Buffalo allowed Toronto a series of odd-man rushes throughout the night -- and John-Michael Liles scored his seventh of the season on one such play with :00.7 left in the period. Miller got a piece of MacArthur's shot, but the puck bounced off several skates, hit Liles and went into the net an instant before the final buzzer went off. A video review confirmed the goal.

A dejected Miller wasn't happy with his teammates' lack of urgency in the final seconds of the period. "We had control of the puck, we didn't manage the clock very well.  I think they were much more aware," he said.  "I think John-Michael got it, he was well aware of what he should be doing with that much time on the clock.

"We needed to be a little more aware of what's going on there," said Miller, who made 25 saves.

Crabb got the ball rolling for the Leafs 9:32 into the first period, beating Miller with a high forehand shot on a shorthanded breakaway with teammate Carter Ashton in the box for hooking.

Scrivens was welcomed to the game with a Leopold shot off his mask in the early stages of the first period.  It was one of eight stops for the 25-year-old who not only looked comfortable positionally between the pipes and played the puck with confidence.

"You want to come out and be confident, that's how I play the game," he said. "When I am with the Marlies, I am trying to play that same game.  It's not a matter of trying to do one thing or another for a specific situation. I play best when I am at the top of the crease when I am in a good ready stance and when I can play the puck and help the guys break the puck out.  The intention was just to play my game."

The Maple Leafs own a 3-2 lead in the season series. The teams meet again in Buffalo on Tuesday.
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