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Maple Leafs-Sabres Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (27-26-5) at Buffalo Sabres (36-16-5).

TIME: Friday, 8 p.m. EST.

Looking to end an ill-timed slump as they try to keep up in the Northeast Division race, the Buffalo Sabres take on another struggling team when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Sabres have been battling Ottawa for the top spot in the Northeast, but lost for the third time in four games Wednesday night, 4-2 at home to Atlanta. Kari Lehtonen turned aside 25 of 27 Buffalo shots in the final two periods, and Brad Larsen scored two goals as Atlanta dealt the Sabres a defeat in their first game after the Olympic break.

Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov scored for Buffalo, which has suffered an overtime loss and a shootout loss during its current slump. The Sabres had won six a row before the 1-2-1 stretch.

"Execution wasn't our strong suit," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, whose team went 2-for-9 on the power play Wednesday. "We made enough mistakes to lose it, and didn't finish enough plays to win."

Buffalo co-captain Daniel Briere assisted on Drury's goal in his return to the ice after missing 32 games because of a sports hernia.

While the Sabres are trying to get back on track, the Senators have won two in a row following back-to-back losses.

The Maple Leafs have had even bigger problems of late, suffering consecutive defeats to the New York Rangers just before the break, then falling 5-3 to Washington on Tuesday in their return to the ice. Toronto is 3-11-2 in its last 16 games.

That stretch includes a 1-7-1 mark on the road, and the Leafs will be facing a Sabres team that averages 3.48 goals per game on home ice, among the best in the league.

On Tuesday, the Leafs didn't register a shot on goal in the first five minutes, while allowing the Caps to score twice in that span. Toronto pulled even on goals by Nik Andropov and Darcy Tucker late in the first period, but Washington took control with three goals in the second.

"Maybe we aren't as good as we think we are because we haven't done well against the teams below us," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said.

Their recent slump has dropped the Maple Leafs out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Fans at the Air Canada Centre booed the Leafs after the loss Tuesday.

"I thought we beat ourselves," Toronto captain Mats Sundin said. "We have a lot to work to do, that's for sure."

STANDINGS: Maple Leafs - 59 points, 5th place, 24 PB, Northeast Division. Sabres - 77 points, 2nd place, 6 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Darcy Tucker, 24 goals; Jason Allison and Tomas Kaberle, 39 assists; Bryan McCabe, 53 points and 88 PIM. Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 21 goals and 44 points; Teppo Numminen, 30 assists; Andrew Peters, 63 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.2 percent (73 for 361), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.2 percent (291 for 363), 24th. Sabres - Power play: 21 percent (72 for 343), 2nd (tied). Penalty killing: 86.4 percent (260 for 301), 2nd.

GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Ed Belfour (21-21-3, 3.36 GAA); Mikael Tellqvist (6-5-2, 1 SO, 2.79). Sabres - Ryan Miller (20-8-2, 2.28); Martin Biron (15-6-3, 2.98).

SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 26; Sabres, 8-4. At Toronto, the Sabres scored four goals on 16 shots to chase Belfour. Rookie Thomas Vanek scored twice for Buffalo.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 10-15-3 on the road; Sabres - 18-8-3 at home.

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