BUFFALO -- Marcus Foligno's second-period goal proved to be the game-winner and made interim coach Ted Nolan's return a successful one as the Buffalo Sabres beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 at First Niagara Center on Friday night.
Foligno scored on a backhand shot at 15:22 of the middle period off a pass from Sabres captain Steve Ott on a 2-on-1 break. Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Fraser got turned around on the play and the two Sabres broke in against Paul Ranger. Ott passed across to Foligno, who crashed through the net and scored.
While Foligno's goal was the game-winner, Christian Ehrhoff's defensive play late in the game made it stand up.
In the final minute of the third period, Ryan Miller was spun out of position by the Maple Leafs' attack on his net. The puck bounced free to James van Riemsdyk who appeared to have an open net, but Ehrhoff scrambled in front of the goal and blocked his shot.
Moments later, Ehrhoff gathered and fired the puck down the ice for an empty-net goal with 28 seconds left to play to seal the victory for Buffalo (5-15-1).
"It was just desperation," Ehrhoff said. "I know [Miller] was just on the other side of the net and the puck came out to van Riemsdyk, and I just tried to make myself as big as I can and I got the save."
The goal was Ehrhoff's first of the season and gave the Sabres their second straight win.
"Christian Ehrhoff had the play of the game and saved our butts, and then he put it away," Miller said. "It was a great turn of events there to watch him make that play on the back side, have great awareness to find it and help me out, then get it down the ice and split the uprights."
"That was a heck of a play by [Ehrhoff]," van Riemsdyk said. "He made a good read and sacrificed his body for it. I guess we are not getting those bounces right now, but we've got to keep fighting for it."
The win was Nolan's first as a Sabres coach since May 9, 1997, and his first regular-season win behind Buffalo's bench since April 10, 1997.
"You know what? I can't even put it into words," Nolan said. "It was one of those games where you didn't know where this type of day would ever happen again. It was really very emotional. I'll have a good cry after everybody leaves."
The Sabres got off to a positive start by outshooting the Maple Leafs 10-5 in the first period. It was only the fourth time this season the Sabres had more shots than their opponent after the first 20 minutes.
Despite the good start, the Maple Leafs struck first. Trevor Smith, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Friday, made it 1-0 at 6:25 of the second period when his shot from the slot deflected off Ehrhoff and past Miller (32 saves). The goal was the second of the season for Smith, who played on a line with Mason Raymond and David Clarkson.
"Smitty comes up and scores a goal, he hits a crossbar," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "He fit in there, and that's what we said: We're going to have to play people to their strengths. I've got no qualms about putting him in the lineup and giving him an opportunity to play with better players."
Just 3:20 later, however, Ott capitalized on the power play with his third goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1. Ott put home a rebound of a Tyler Myers shot from the point to beat Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier (24 saves).
"Our compete, our work ethic right from the drop of that puck I thought was pretty contagious on the bench for our lineup," Ott said. "It's been a pretty awesome 48 hours in the sense of renewed energy and that clean slate. You've seen a lot of weight off a lot of guys' shoulders out there."
The Maple Leafs (11-7-1) have lost three games in a row and have scored a total of three goals in those losses.
"We didn't have, I think, the great number of second opportunities," Carlyle said. "The puck was bouncing away from us, but yet we had our chances in the hockey game. You've got to look at the difference in the game: power play. They get a power-play goal and we don't get one."
These two teams face off against each other again Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.
"You're going to go through those kinds of situations in a year that you've got to stand on your head, and sometimes you'll play a bad game and guys will score five, six for you," Bernier said. "We've just got to find that touch again. It's a big game in our building [Saturday], and we've got to come out strong and get [those] two points."