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Sabres try to find home success against Maple Leafs

by Brian Hunter /
MAPLE LEAFS (16-11-3) at SABRES (15-12-3)


Last 10:
Toronto 5-4-1; Buffalo 3-4-3

Season Series:
First of six meetings between these Northeast Division rivals. The teams split their matchups on the 2010-11 schedule, with Toronto winning the last three after Buffalo had taken three in a row. The Maple Leafs were 3-1 with James Reimer in net, while Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski led them with 3 goals apiece. Thomas Vanek scored 3 goals to pace the Sabres.

Big Story: Toronto survived over a month without its No. 1 goalie, the man known around town as "Optimus Reim," but he's back healthy and after going 0-2-1 in his first three starts off injured reserve, Reimer turned in a sound performance by stopping 18 of 19 shots in an overtime victory over Carolina on Tuesday, coming within 1:54 of his fifth career shutout.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: Reimer locked in a goaltending duel with Cam Ward of Carolina earlier this week, and after both sides played scoreless hockey for over 55 minutes, Tim Connolly put Toronto on the board by tipping in a Clarke MacArthur shot with 4:14 remaining. While the Hurricanes would come back and force OT on a late goal by Alexei Ponikarovsky, that just set the stage for Connolly to come through again just 44 seconds into the extra period.

"I think he's played really well and he's done all the things that we thought he could do," coach Ron Wilson said of Connolly, who spent the past eight seasons with the Sabres before signing as a free agent. "And it doesn't matter who he plays with, he's going to try to make those people around him better and I think he's done that."

Sabres: This is the finale of a five-game homestand, and Buffalo might be looking forward to hitting the road for a while. The Sabres only have one win on this current stretch at First Niagara Center and are an uninspiring 6-9-3 in their own building this season (they were also credited with a "home" win for beating the Ducks in their season opener in Helsinki, Finland). They led the Senators by a goal heading into the third on Tuesday only to suffer a 3-2 overtime defeat in a game in which they also lost forward Ville Leino to a lower-body injury.

"We've been nowhere near good enough at home all year," said goalie Ryan Miller, who finished with 41 saves. "I don't think it's time to panic, but it's time to build the game that we need to be competitive and be a playoff-caliber team."

Who's Hot: Joffrey Lupul set up Connolly's overtime goal, giving him 1 goal and 3 assists during a four-game points streak for the Maple Leafs. His 34 points place him in the top five in the NHL scoring race. … Jason Pominville has 1 goal and 4 assists during a four-game points streak for the Sabres.

Injury Report:
Toronto forwards Mike Brown (back) and Matthew Lombardi (shoulder) and defenseman Mike Komisarek (arm) are on injured reserve. … Leino's injury has him out indefinitely, while forwards Jochen Hecht (lower body) and Corey Tropp (upper body) are day-to-day. Forwards Brad Boyes (knee), Patrick Kaleta (groin) and Nathan Gerbe (concussion) and defenseman Tyler Myers (wrist) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack: Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf logged 23:53 of ice time and took five shots on goal in playing his 500th NHL game Tuesday. … The Sabres weren't scored upon in 21 times shorthanded during last season's series against the Leafs.

Puck Drop:
Buffalo can tie Toronto in the standings with a regulation win Friday, but forward Derek Roy said it's going to take a better effort than the team has put forth of late.

"We're not playing a full 60 (minutes) right now," he said. "We're not even playing a full 40 minutes."
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