With his team in need of some encouragement after the second period, Ron Wilson said all the right things.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' coach delivered a speech during the intermission that helped spark a 4-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel scored 2:33 apart early in the final period to secure an important win.
"We had a period to show that we're serious when we talk about trying to make the playoffs," Wilson said. "We came out gunning and got them on their heels."
The win ended a three-game slide for the Leafs and got the team back within four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres and New York Rangers both sit at 74 points, while Toronto has 70.
The gap would have widened to eight points had the Leafs failed to rally.
"That's a huge win for our team," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said. "It's a big character win. We knew what was on the line and I think it shows what kind of character we have in our (dressing) room."
One of the keys to victory was finding a way to get under the skin of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Miller entered the night with a 24-9-0 record, 2.17 goals-against average and .931 save percentage against the Leafs.
"It's written on the board: 'Get traffic in front of him, keep him deep, make him work,"' Wilson said. "The whole thing is you have to do it for 60 minutes because he's played so much he might be a little tired in the third period. I don't know if that was the case but getting the traffic there (helped)."
The Sabres didn't exactly see it the same way.
Kessel scored the game-winner at 6:36 of the third period with an innocent-looking shot that banked in off the skate of Buffalo defenseman Steve Montador.
"They got lucky," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "(The) puck went off the skate, sometimes you've got to live with that."
Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak also had goals for Toronto (30-29-10).
"We were off (Friday) and had lots of energy," Grabovski said.
Mike Weber, Jochen Hecht and Jordan Leopold scored for the Sabres (33-27-8), who went 4-2-1 during a seven-game road trip.
After Weber and MacArthur traded goals in the first period, Bozak gave Toronto its first lead of the night just past the midway point of the game. Seconds after being denied on a breakaway, he took a pass from Kessel and beat Miller for just his third goal since Jan. 22.
"I'm just trying to work hard," Bozak said. "Things haven't gone my way the whole year -- a lot of chances that haven't gone in. You've got to stay positive. We're still right in this thing so you can't sulk and get down on yourself. We've got to do it as a team here."
The Sabres wrestled the momentum back before the end of the period. Hecht buried a rebound past James Reimer at 11:04 and Leopold beat him with a point shot on a power play at 15:31 to make it 3-2.
Like his teammates, the 22-year-old goaltender stood tall in the final period -- denying Tomas Vanek and Brad Boyes from point-blank range after his team had surged ahead.
Reimer was appearing in his 13th straight games and has almost single-handedly resuscitated the Leafs' playoff hopes. Wilson believes the rookie has given the team its best stretch of goaltending since he was hired in June 2008.
"Probably for sure, yeah," Wilson said. "A long stretch like this, you're always like: `Is tonight the night where he's going to wear down a little bit?' And he's had a couple of games where he wasn't as sharp as he's been.
"You can't expect the goalie to be perfect every night."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.