BUFFALO -- Steve Ott's shootout goal proved to be the difference in a wild game between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs at a raucous First Niagara Center on Thursday.
The goal by Ott in the top of the sixth round of the shootout lifted the Sabres over the Maple Leafs 5-4.
Ott came in fast and slipped a backhand in past James Reimer's left pad. Ryan Miller then stopped Clarke MacArthur to secure the extra point.
"I was excited. Anytime you get a chance to score a goal or to be in a shootout, those are fun games," Ott said.
Toronto's Tyler Bozak faked a shot then wristed one over Miller's blocker in the bottom of the second round to put the Maple Leafs ahead. Drew Stafford kept Buffalo alive with a shot that trickled in off Reimer's glove.
Nazem Kadri scored twice in regulation and added an assist, and Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski each had a goal for the Maple Leafs. Reimer stopped 32 shots. Kadri nearly put the Leafs ahead in the first round of the shootout, but Miller, sliding back into the net, managed to keep the puck out.
Miller made 30 saves. Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Jason Pominville and Christian Ehrhoff scored in regulation for the Sabres, who battled back from a 3-1 deficit in the second period. Foligno and Ennis scored before intermission to make it 3-3, and Ehrhoff gave them a lead early in the third.
"That's character, absolutely," Ott said. "It's the process that we've continued to stick with in this dressing room for over a month now since [interim coach Ron Rolston's] come in. We've tried to clean up details."
Buffalo has won back-to-back games and has points in nine of its last 12.
"We're doing it one at a time. We appreciate winning the last game and it's a good job coming back tonight. Winning's fun," Miller said. "They're not going to ask how you got it done when it comes down it. We have a job to do and just keep ticking them off one at a time and see where we end up here. I think that's just the best way to do it."
Ehrhoff had two assists to cap a three-point night, his third multipoint game of the season. The defenseman's rocket from the point 22 seconds into the third period put the Sabres ahead 4-3.
Buffalo started the period on a power play, and on their first possession in Toronto's zone, Ennis carried the puck over the blue line and dropped it back to Cody Hodgson. He passed it backward one more time to Ehrhoff at the right point, where he leaned into a slap shot that beat Reimer.
"We stuck to our game plan and it didn't really affect us when we got down by two. We kept rolling and built off the first goal and came back," Ehrhoff said of the comeback.
Toronto tied it 4-4 when Kadri scored his second of the game at 6:33. With the man advantage, Phil Kessel moved the puck to the right point where Cody Franson fired a shot on goal. Kadri deflected it past Miller as James van Riemsdyk drew two defenders in front of the net.
Kadri has two goals and six assists in his past three games and leads Toronto with 33 points.
Despite having collected just five points in their last seven games with a 1-3-3 record, the Maple Leafs are still optimistic about their play as they try to break a playoff drought that extends to 2004.
"I think we're doing a lot of good things," Kadri said. "Bits and pieces of the game start to get away and drift from our structure. That's where we start to find ourselves in a little bit of trouble, but for the most part, if we can put together a 60-minute game, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Reimer echoed those sentiments.
"It's not great that we're winning games but at the same time we're getting points. If things aren't going your way and you're still getting points, that's the best of a worst-case scenario," he said. "Obviously you want to be putting more wins up there, but if we can fight and scrape for points, that's pretty good for being in a down time."
The third period was filled with end-to-end rushes and breaks by both teams. Each goaltender had to come up with big stops to keep the game tied.
With 3:34 left in regulation, Miller received help from his right post when van Riemsdyk cranked a shot off the pipe.
Buffalo earned a power play with 1:17 to play in regulation when Kulemin was called for high sticking. Bozak stole the puck in his own end and was stopped by Miller on a 2-on-1 with 47.7 seconds left in the third, and Toronto was able to kill off the rest of penalty in overtime.
The gloves came off early. Before a faceoff in the Buffalo zone 2:09 after the start, Maple Leafs forward Frazer McLaren poked at Sabres forward John Scott and the two went at it as soon as the puck hit the ice. Toronto's Colton Orr simultaneously charged after Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta and cross-checked him before the two traded punches. Orr was called for cross-checking, instigating and fighting, and received a 10-minute game misconduct that put the Sabres on a four-minute power play, though they were unable to capitalize.
The game remained scrappy and fast-paced to the point where many players said it felt like a playoff game.
"I thought tonight, the crowd made it a playoff atmosphere. I had chills the whole game. I'm sure all of us [did]," Ott said. "It was intense. It was an atmosphere and that was a fun, fun game."