BUFFALO – Sometimes the biggest contributions in a win come from unexpected sources.
Matt Ellis' first goal of the season 3:14 into the third period helped give the Buffalo Sabres a 4-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at First Niagara Center on Wednesday.
Ellis received a pass from Nikita Zadorov and broke in against Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier. Ellis deked and slid the puck past Bernier after he attempted a desperation poke check. It was Ellis’ first goal since April 13, 2014 and ended a 33-game goal drought.
"It’s not often I find myself in those spots with time and space," Ellis said. "If you watch me in practice I can pull those off the odd time. [Zadorov] made a great pass. I had a lot of time, a lot of space. I made a move and [Bernier] ended up dropping so I had some space to work with in behind."
Ellis also assisted on Zac Dalpe’s first goal of the season in the first period to give him his first multi-point game since March 31, 2010 when he had two assists against the Florida Panthers.
"It feels great. Everyone wants to contribute, everyone wants to get on the score sheet and help the team win," Ellis said. "For me, I understand what my job is and night in and night out I try to bring that. For a fourth liner to be able to contribute, I think that’s great for the team."
Dalpe’s goal was his first with the Sabres and ended a 24-game goal drought that went back to March 6, 2014 with the Vancouver Canucks.
"It was kind of a broken play in our end that resulted in, I think, a 4-on-2," Dalpe said. "It went off a couple skates and ended up in front. So I whacked away and it went in. I’m happy."
The Sabres (22-47-8) won their second consecutive game. The last time the Sabres won two games in a row was Feb. 24 and 26 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Canucks.
"Whether it’s the basement, it’s about the integrity of the game," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "You’re not going to tell professional athletes not to work and not to compete. This group here, they’re giving us what they have to give for the last little while here. It feels good when you see a group like this work and get rewarded for a win."
The Sabres have 52 points in the standings and matched their total from 2013-14 with five games left to play. Buffalo is two points behind the Arizona Coyotes for 29th in the NHL.
"This is what you want to do," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "You want to set that culture and that precedent now, not next September."
The Maple Leafs (29-43-6) loss ended a two-game win streak.
Matt Moulson and Cody Hodgson helped the Sabres overcome a 3-1 deficit.
Moulson received a pass from Johan Larsson in front of the net and took a one-timer that got past Bernier for his 13th goal 1:33 into the third period on a power play.
Hodgson’s sixth goal came 30 seconds after Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri scored his 18th goal that made it 3-1 at 13:24. Hodgson picked up a rebound of a shot by Sabres defenseman Andre Benoit and put a backhand wraparound shot past Bernier that made it 3-2.
"These guys work hard. Each and every day, no matter what the circumstances, the guys are laying it out there," Ellis said. "That’s a great sign of character within this locker room. Being able to go out there, when the puck drops, it’s game on and that’s the bottom line. We’re professional athletes and we’re in for the love of the game and you’re trying to do one thing and you say, ‘That puck hits the ice, you go and play, and give it what you got.’ We’ve been doing that lately. The guys should be proud of themselves."
The Maple Leafs took a 3-1 lead in the second period on goals from James van Riemsdyk and Kadri. Van Riemsdyk’s 25th goal came 47 seconds into the second when he received a pass from Phil Kessel and took a backhand shot that went past Sabres goalie Anders Lindback through his five-hole.
"You have a 3-1 lead and they scored two quick goals in the third," Maple Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek said. "We just talked about getting back. I thought our second period was pretty sloppy and we still had a lead. I thought, ‘OK let’s play a solid third period and get back to playing the way we want to play.’ Those two quick goals… We came back. We had tons of great chances. We had lots of chances, Lindback did a good job of making the saves. You can’t be happy with that."
Lindback made 20 saves; Bernier made 27.
Dalpe’s goal gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead 6:48 into the first period, but Maple Leafs defenseman Eric Brewer tied the game 1-1 with 3:19 left in the first when he took a slap shot from just inside the blue line that got through traffic and past Lindback for his third goal.
Tyler Ennis returned to the Sabres lineup after missing the past two games because of a shoulder injury. Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen missed the game due to illness.