Jason Pominville said over the weekend that he was intrigued to see if the rivalry between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs would be how he remembered, with some five years having passed since he was last a part of it.
He got his answer on Monday. Following a game that featured a constant back-and-forth from fans on both sides, a total of eight goals scored and physical play throughout, Pominville smiled at his locker in KeyBank Center.
"Yeah, it hasn't changed," he said.
Apparently, neither has Pominville's knack for scoring against Buffalo's neighbors to the north. He came into the game with 48 points (18+30) in 50 games against the Maple Leafs as a member of the Sabres, and he added two more to that total with a goal and an assist to help lead Buffalo to a 5-3 win.
Video: Condensed Game: Maple Leafs @ Sabres
Pominville was one of four Sabres to tally multiple points in the victory. Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly and Johan Larsson each scored a goal and an assist, while Rasmus Ristolainen tallied two helpers. Zemgus Girgensons also scored a goal.
In an electric atmosphere and against an opponent in the Maple Leafs that they expected to come out strong following three-straight losses, the Sabres used their net-front presence to establish an early lead. They scored twice on deflections in the the first 3:43 of the game.
Both goals - the first scored by Reinhart on the power play, the second by Pominville - came on shots from the point by Ristolainen.
Video: TOR@BUF: Pominville tips home Ristolainen's shot
"It was really important to get some net-front presence and have a good shot mentality," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "… We got off to a good start. We started on time against an opponent where we knew they were coming off of three losses. We knew they were going to be hungry and we got that all-important first goal."
Leo Komarov scored a pair of second-period goals for Toronto to tie the game, but the Sabres never wavered. They did get some bounces - Girgensons' go-ahead goal went in off his skate, followed by a goal for O'Reilly that was precipitated by a deflection off an official - but they also created their own luck.
Their final goal, scored by Larsson with 10:05 remaining in the third period, came in the same area as their first two. Jordan Nolan forced a turnover on the forecheck, Pominville took a shot and Larsson was in front of the net to cash in on a rebound (the goal stood after an unsuccessful challenge for goaltender interference).
Video: TOR@BUF: Larsson taps home rebound to pad lead
"We didn't blink," Pominville said. "We got a couple bounces go our way, for sure, on a couple goals. But we didn't blink, we kept pushing. … We stuck with it tonight and found a way, which was nice. Lately we've been doing it quite a bit. It's something we've got to build off of."
Chad Johnson improved to 6-2-0 in his last nine appearances with a 38-save effort. When the Maple Leafs made pushes, Johnson was a valuable last line of defense despite at times having to deal with net-front traffic of his own.
"They transition very, very quickly," Housley said. "Any possession change, even in their D zone, their forwards are taking off and their D find them and they try to spread you out. I thought our guys did a good job coming back into our zone, trying to stop them in a good position, trying to take their second wave.
"A lot of their shots were from the perimeter, and when they did get good looks Chad Johnson was really good tonight."
Video: TOR@BUF: Johnson stones Hyman after giveaway in front
The Sabres now have five wins over the top three teams in the Atlantic Divison in the past month, following two victories apiece against Tampa Bay and Boston in February. Housley said those wins are testaments to Buffalo's preparation as of late, as well as their willingness to play for each other.
They should have no trouble finding motivation for their three matchups that still remain with the Maple Leafs between now and the end of the season. As it often does, emotion seemed to spill from the stands onto the ice on Monday, resulting in a physical affair. A second period-fight between Ristolainen and Nazem Kadri ended with Ristolainen waving his arms in the air to rile up the crowd.
"it's tough for us to go through this last little bit, but we're trying to build something," Reinhart said. "We're trying to improve and keep this consistent play going. If we get an atmosphere like this any time, especially on this ice and to be able to put a good product out for them, that's motivation enough for us."
Reinhart keeps scoring
Reinhart now has 23 points (9+14) in his last 22 games. While he had previously said that not much had changed from his early-season scoring slump, he admitted after the game on Monday that he's been able to simplify the game mentally as of late.
Video: TOR@BUF: Reinhart tips shot past Andersen for PPG
"I'm just moving my feet, holding onto the puck," he said. "Just playing naturally. I think I use my knowledge of the game to my advantage but when I overthink things, it doesn't go too well for me or doesn't go as well for me. I've just been able to relax and just play hockey and be more comfortable on the ice."
Criscuolo leaves with injury
Kyle Criscuolo left the game after sustaining an injury on his first shift of the second period and did not return. Criscuolo was skating with out his stick in the defensive zone when he collided with Toronto's Matt Martin along the boards. He skated immediately to the dressing room.
Criscuolo had been recalled on Sunday to fill in at center in the absence of Evan Rodrigues, who has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury. Housley did not have an update on his status after the game.
The Sabres will host the Calgary Flames at KeyBank Center on Wednesday night. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 7 p.m. with the GMC Game Night Pregame Show, or you can listen to the game live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30.
Buffalo will then return home on Saturday afternoon to welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to KeyBank Center for the first time. Looking to bring the family? Find out more about Kids Day ticket offers here. Puck drop on Saturday is scheduled for 1 p.m.