TORONTO - For 20 minutes at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night, the Buffalo Sabres appeared to be in control. They'd limited the opportunities for the Toronto Maple Leafs and, after a goal from Evander Kane scored with 33 seconds remaining in the first period, entered the dressing room with a 2-0 lead.
As quickly as that lead had been earned, it evaporated even quicker. Toronto scored three times in the first 10 minutes of the second period to gain the lead in what would go on to become a 4-3 win for the Maple Leafs.
The game was a missed opportunity for the Sabres both to earn ground on the third-place Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division and to build on their 4-1 win over Dallas on Monday.
"I think we're skating, we're working, we've just go to find a way to string a few together," Sabres forward Kyle Okposo said. "It's up and down, just win one, lose one, win two, lose two. We've just got to find a way to use [our] speed and just play full 60s."
Toronto's comeback began when Leo Komarov - battling Jake McCabe as he skated in toward the net - was able to get his stick on a shot from Nazem Kadri and deflect it into the net just 32 seconds into the period.
Matt Martin tied the game at the 8:29 mark with a bad-angle shot from the boards that squeaked in between the post and goalie Robin Lehner. Auston Matthews' goal, roofed from the slot after Toronto won a battle behind the net 1:17 later, was the last shot Lehner would face. He finished his night with 13 saves on 16 shots in 27:45 before being replaced by Anders Nilsson
Dan Bylsma said that the decision to pull Lehner was based more on the timing of the Maple Leafs' goals more than any other factor. Lehner's frustration with the decision was visible as he yelled while making his way back to the bench.
Video: Lehner: Postgame Interview at TOR
"He should be upset with it," Bylsma said. "That's a part of Robin's game, that emotion, and yeah, I have no problem with that."
With the Sabres pushing to come back in the third period, Zach Bogosian was called for holding behind the net. James van Riemsdyk scored to extend Toronto's lead to 4-2 just 19 seconds into the ensuing power play, roofing a puck short-side past Nilsson with 6:56 remaining.
Van Riemsdyk's goal would stand as the game-winner, as William Carrier went on to score for Buffalo with 2:23 remaining, batting home a pass out in front from Zemgus Girgensons.
Video: BUF@TOR: Carrier knocks puck home out of midair
The Sabres had succeeded in the first period similarly to how they won against Dallas on Monday, by capitalizing on mistakes and letting chances come to them. Such was the case on Kyle Okposo's goal to open the scoring, when Carrier forced Maple Leafs goalie Frederick Andersen ito make an errant pass in the offensive zone that landed directly on Okposo's stick.
Video: BUF@TOR: Okposo takes advantage of Andersen's miscue
"Second-period hockey, coach talked about it last week, we've just got to play the same way we play the first 10 minutes," Carrier said. "We played good, we had a good lead, we've just got to bring that."
The Sabres had chances to score more than the two goals they ended up with. Jack Eichel was involved in two 2-on-1 rushes that they were unable to capitalize on, Sam Reinhart neraly connected with Marcus Foligno in the third and a late-game barrage was fruitless with Nilsson pulled in the final minute.
"I guess you can say that sometimes we were getting a little too cute," Eichel said. "We've had success when we pound pucks to the net and get bodies there. I thought we played a pretty good game, I just think things need to be a little bit cleaner, execution a little bit better."
Ennis sits as precautionary scratch
Tyler Ennis, one day removed from scoring in his return from a 30-game absence, did not play in the game. Bylsma said it was the team's plan to keep Ennis from playing back-to-back games so soon after his lenghty recovery from groin surgery.
"It wasn't unexpected from our standpoint, just more precautionary, him coming back from his injury and not playing back-to-back games." Bylsma said.
The Sabres return to KeyBank Center for a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.