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CAL O'REILLY NOTCHES FIRST 2-GOAL GAME TO LEAD SABRES PAST LEAFS

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Cal O'Reilly lined up at center ice for a faceoff with three seconds left on the clock in the third period on Thursday night. He'd played the entire last minute, his teammates visibly trying to set him up for the empty-net goal that would have given him his first career hat trick.

O'Reilly never did get that empty-net goal, and yet he had plenty of reasons to celebrate after the game. Not only had he scored twice for the first multi-goal game of his career, he also connected on the first of those goals with his younger brother, Ryan.

"It was pretty special for our family," Cal said afterward. "Our parents were here so I'm sure they were cheering pretty loud."

Cal's big night combined with a pair of goals from Johan Larsson – who ultimately potted the empty netter for his first multi-goal game as well – provided all the offense the Sabres would need in a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The opponent was fitting. Cal was born in Toronto and his family still resides in Ontario, which is a reason they came up for the game.

They picked a good one. Born over four years apart, the O'Reilly brothers had never even played an organized game together prior to this season. The first goal they ever connected on came Thursday, and it came at the highest level of hockey. No pair of brothers had done it before in a Sabres uniform.

Ryan beamed when talking about his brother afterward.

"It's amazing," he said. "You never think growing up, playing the backyard rink against each other, beating each other up, at this level we'll get an opportunity to play together. Watching him have success tonight, it's awesome. I watch him train, I see everything he does. It's awesome."

You can bet their mother, Bonnie, was paying close attention as the play developed. Ryan passed the puck to Cal, who in turn fed it to Jack Eichel in the left circle. Eichel pump-faked to get Cal open in the crease, then gave the puck back for him to take his shot.

"They always talk about their mom being the [happiest] and the most aware in those situations," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was mentioned during the game, 'Mom's going to be happy for that one.'"

Cal's second goal was a hustle play after David Legwand cleared the puck off the wall and down the ice following a Josh Gorges takeaway in the defensive zone. He chased the puck down to the left circle in Toronto's zone, where he wound up for a slap shot that beat goalie Garret Sparks beneath the glove.

"I thought the goalie was going to come out and he didn't," Cal said. "I looked over and saw I didn’t have anyone, [Matt Moulson] was coming down, so I tried to throw a quick shot on there and luckily it got under his glove."

It took Cal 131 games over parts of five NHL seasons to get a two-goal game, seven years removed from his League debut. He's only played 18 games for Buffalo this season, going back-and-forth from Rochester as the year has worn on.

Yet there he was on the top power-play unit, a testament to his experience and ability. When the net was empty and it came time for him to go for the hat trick, Bylsma said the whole team was lobbying for him to do it. None wanted it more than his brother.

"Training with him every summer, pushing each other, getting better together and watching him have success tonight … We work so hard and he's had some unfortunate injuries but to watch him bounce back like he did tonight and just in general, he's not getting a ton of ice but still what he's doing with it and what he's creating, his offensive ability and playmaking ability is phenomenal," Ryan said.

"To see him have success tonight, especially with the family in town, it's an honor."

Chad Johnson made 25 saves in net for Buffalo, reaching the 20-win mark for the first time in his career.


COMING OUT STRONG
After coming away disappointed with their last two efforts against the Maple Leafs, the Sabres dominated right from the opening puck drop on Thursday. Larsson and Cal O'Reilly both scored in a first period that ended with the score 2-0 and shots 16-5, both in Buffalo's favor.

"I thought it was one of our better games as of late as well," Bylsma said. "We struggled with Toronto's speed and how they came at us in the last two games and I thought tonight we dealt with that well and turned it back on them, it went the other way pretty significantly."

Larsson's goal came 7:09 into the period after he carried the puck into the offensive zone himself and took a quick shot from the top of the right circle. The shot deflected off the stick of Toronto's Morgan Rielly and into the corner of the net.

Larsson added an empty-net goal with three seconds remaining for his ninth of the season, eight of which have come since the beginning of February. He has four points in his last two games (2+2) and has six points (3+3) in six career games against Toronto.

"I feel like I've had the chances the whole season," Larsson said. "It's just going good for me now."


O'REILLY EXCELS AT THE DOT
His brother may have racked up the goals, but Ryan O'Reilly excelled even more than usual in the faceoff circle with a career-high 22 faceoff wins on 29 attempts (76 percent). His previous career high was 20, a mark he reached twice this season.

"It means we start with the puck in the defensive zone, in the offensive zone, on the power play, on the penalty kill we get draws and win clears," Bylsma said. "I think that's probably the most important part of him being good in the faceoff circle is on the special teams we start with the puck."


FASCHING DENIED HIS SECOND GOAL
Mark Pysyk
took a shot that deflected off the skate of Hudson Fasching and into the net in the second period, appearing to be the rookie's second NHL goal. An initial call of no-goal and a series of subsequent reviews, however, decided otherwise.

Where the review did indeed confirm that the puck crossed the line, the officials determined that Fasching – who was setting a screen on the edge of the crease – interfered with Sparks enough to prevent him from "doing his job in the crease."

Bylsma then challenged the call of goaltender interference thinking that Fasching has been pushed into Sparks, but it stood upon a second review.


FOR THE RECORD
Buffalo improved to 7-4-4 (.600) in March with the win, making it the team's best month since April 2013 (8-4-0). With Tyler Ennis currently on injured reserve, Marcus Foligno and Mark Pysyk are the only active Sabres remaining from that month.

The victory also bolstered Buffalo's home dominance over rival to Toronto, improving the Sabres' record to 17-1-1 in their last 19 home games against the Maple Leafs, including wins in their last seven.


UP NEXT
The Sabres will hit the Big Apple to begin a two-game road trip on Saturday night, taking on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden before heading to New Jersey for a game against the Devils on Tuesday.

Coverage on Saturday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.

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