by Brian Wheeler
Fighting back from a two-goal deficit in the first period, the Buffalo Sabres three-game winning streak was broken as Toronto captain Mats Sundin and Alexei Ponikarovsky each scored during a shootout to elevate Toronto to the 4-3 victory over Buffalo at the Air Canada Center on Thursday night.
"We have a pretty good record in both overtimes and shootouts," said defenseman Henrik Tallinder. "Sometime you win, sometime you lose."
"Toronto came out hungry," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "They see where we are in the standings and they gave it all they had."
Ales Kotalik fired a wristshot over the net and Thomas Vanek
was stopped by Toronto goaltender Ed Belfour in Buffalo's two shootout attempts as the Sabres 10-game winning streak in one-goal games was also snapped.
"We turned the puck over a lot of times on a lot of individual plays," said Ruff. "A lot of times, we didn't have good support. Once we got down in their zone and got our defense involved, the number of scoring chances started going up and we started to control play.
"As the game went on, we wore on them a little bit."
Trailing Toronto the majority of the contest, Jason Pominville
tied the game 3-3 on the power play with a slapshot from above the right faceoff circle that went through Belfour's pads and trickled over the goal line.
"There is no quit in this team," said Ruff. "You check our record of games we've won when we've been down by a goal or two. You have to give those guys a lot of credit. With the number of guys we've had go down and the number of guys that stepped up, the only way we are going to survive is by getting production from a lot of areas."
If the Sabres are considered the "cardiac kids" the team's power play unit has been their defibrillator. Buffalo's man advantage unit, which was ranked third in the league heading into the contest, was held scoreless for two periods with the team trailing before Pominville's shot evened the score, ultimately sent the game into overtime and earned the Sabres a point in the standings.
"Getting down by two goals made it tough on ourselves," said Ruff. "In the last 40 minutes, we controlled the majority of the play and got a good point. Anytime you can get a point on the road, it's pretty well a job well done."
This season, Tim Connolly has been a Leaf killer. In the two team's first meeting on November 11, Connolly recorded a pair of goals as Buffalo rolled to a 5-2 victory at HSBC Arena. On this night, the Syracuse, NY native led the Sabres with a goal and two assists.
Tallinder scored Buffalo's second goal of the game in the second period. With Maxim Afinogenov in the penalty box for roughing, the shorthanded marker was the first of Tallinder's NHL career.
"It was a great play," said Ruff of the goal. "He faked the shot, got (Belfour) to bite on it, had the composure to hang on to the puck and throw it in the short side from a pretty difficult angle."
After winning 14 consecutive starts, Sabres goaltender Martin Biron took his second consecutive loss making 25 saves. Biron lost his previous start 4-1 to the Florida Panthers on December 22.
Off a turnover by Vanek in the Buffalo zone, Toronto scores their ninth shorthanded goal of the season to take the 1-0 lead. On a two-on-one, Ponikarovsky received a pass from Matt Stajan and flips a backhander over Biron's left pad for his 10th of the season.
Just a minute and 47 seconds later, Toronto defenseman Bryan McCabe extends the Maple Leafs lead to two after receiving a drop-pass from Tie Domi at the left faceoff dot and firing a precision slapshot into the top-left corner of the net.
Buffalo tied the game following a pair of hustle plays from Connolly.
Fighting through Toronto defenseman Ken Klee to the front of the net, the Syracuse, NY native slammed the rebound off Vanek's wrap-around attempt, as he was being dragged to the ice, past Belfour for Buffalo's first goal of the contest.
Less than three minutes into the second period, Connolly took a faceoff in Buffalo's zone coast-to-coast and fired a shot from the slot. Belfour made the save but gave up a rebound to the left of the net that Tallinder collected and fired past the out-of-position netminder from an almost impossible angle to tie the game 2-2.
The score would remain tied for only a minute as Darcy Tucker one-timed Kyle Wellwood's pass from the left wing for his 16th goal of the season.
------------------------------- SCORING REPORTS
| Super Stats
| Faceoff Comp
| Play By Play
| Shift Chart GAME BLOG:
0-1 (14:00): Off a turnover by Thomas Vanek
in the Buffalo zone, Toronto scores their ninth shorthanded goal of the season to take the lead. On a two-on-one, Alexei Ponikarovsky receives a pass from Matt Stajan and flips a backhander over Martin Biron's left pad for his 10th of the season. Stajan gets the only helper.
0-2 (15:47): Receiving a drop-pass at the left faceoff dot, Bryan McCabe fires a precision slapshot into the top left corner of the net. The goal is McCabe's 14th of the season. Tie Domi and Clarke Wilm get the helpers.
1-2 (17:14): Fighting off Ken Klee in front of the net, Tim Connolly slaps in the rebound off Thomas Vanek
wrap-around attempt to cut the Toronto lead to one. The marker is Connolly's eighth of the season. Vanek and Ales Kotalik get the helpers.
2-2 (4:37): During a Toronto power play, Tim Connolly takes the puck coast-to-coast and fires a shot on net from the slot that Ed Belfour stops. Henrik Tallinder, who was attacking on the play, collected the puck at the left faceoff dot and beats Belfour, who was out of the net. The shorthanded marker is Tallinder's third goal of the season and first of his career. Tim Connolly gets the only helper.
2-3 (5:55): Darcy Tucker regains the Toronto lead a minute later, one-timing Kyle Wellwood's pass from the left wing under Martin Biron. The goal is Tucker's 16th of the season. Wellwood and Tomas Kaberle get the helpers.
3-3 (8:07): Jason Pominville
blasts a slapshot from above the right faceoff circle that goes through Belfour's pads and trickles into the net. The power-play goal is Pominville's fourth of the season. Brian Campbell and Tim Connolly record the assists.
Ales Kotalik - Fires over the net (fail)
Mats Sundin - wristshot top right corner (good) Thomas Vanek
- Belfour tips shot (fail)
Alexei Ponikarovsky - backhand while Biron attempted poke check (good)
Remaining shooters unnecesary
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.