A come-from-behind victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday has the Buffalo Sabres feeling good about themselves as a team – and has them inching their way out of last place in the standings.
With the 4-3 victory at First Niagara Center, the Sabres now sit two points out of 29th place. Zac Dalpe, Cody Hodgson, Matt Moulson and Matt Ellis scored for Buffalo while Anders Lindback made 24 saves in goal.
Ellis, who had a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game since March 31, 2010, scored the game-winner 3:14 into the third period. Both points were Ellis’ first of the season.
“It’s nice to be part of a victory. A guy like me, goals come far and few between,” he said. “I’m known for different things – work ethic and dependability, playing the D-zone. To be able to contribute on the score sheet, it’s definitely a nice feeling – a feeling I’m going to enjoy.”
The Sabres rallied back from a 3-1 deficit midway through the second period.
“It’s about the integrity of the game. You’re not going to tell professional athletes not to work and not to compete. This group here, they’re giving us what they have to give for the last little while here,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “It feels good when you see a group like this work and they get rewarded [with] a win.”
Buffalo’s road to victory wasn’t easy, especially as time wound down. They had to kill off two penalties late in the third period – including one with less than two minutes remaining in regulation – and they ended holding the Toronto power play to an 0-for-4 performance.
“You’ve got to have pride in the penalty kill, blocking shots, knowing your routes,” forward Patrick Kaleta said. “Some of the little things that we weren’t sharp on early on, we’re starting to pick up a little bit.”
The Sabres haven’t allowed a power-play goal in three games, going 7-for-7 over that span.
“We come in with a good game plan and we’re all on the same page,” Ellis said. “We’ve really built some trust and we’re starting to read each other really well. We know what our objectives are and I think the attention to detail and the willingness to execute are what we want to do each and every time.”
Both Dalpe and Andrej Meszaros extended their point streaks to three games. Dalpe has a goal and two assists over that span while Meszaros has four goals and an assist. The goal was Dalpe’s first as a Sabre.
Dalpe tallied first, putting home a backhand 6:48 into the game. The Maple Leafs tied it with 3:19 remaining when Brewer’s slap shot from the point found its way in behind Lindback.
The Maple Leafs took a 3-1 lead on goals from Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk. Hodgson answered 20 seconds after van Riemsdyk’s goal to put Buffalo back in the game.
Wasting little time in the third period, Moulson tallied on the power play 1:33 in. Ellis then scored at the 3:44 mark by cutting through the defense on a pass from Nikita Zadorov, faking out Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier and slipping a backhand in over the goal line.
“These guys work and they compete. Matty Ellis, whether you’re playing on a Sunday morning or a June night, he’s still going to play the same thing as he does now,” Nolan said. “It was great to see him finally get rewarded on the offensive side. His really important part of this team is the way he approaches the game. He’s a true pro and he teaches all the younger guys how to approach the game.”
Ellis, who has 20 goals and 47 points in 350 career games, isn’t known for his offense, but was happy his move worked. He jokingly said that playing ball hockey with his kids has been paying off.
“It wasn’t the Power Backhand, per se, but the first thing Tyler Ennis said to me after I scored it, he looked at me and said, ‘Backhand.’ So they know I like going to my backhand,” he said. “That’s kind of been a running joke since I scored in Columbus last year with a backhand from the blue line. The boys always call it the Power Backhand and that was the first thing he said.”
‘THE COOLEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED TO ME’
In the absence of alternate captain Josh Gorges, who is out for the year with a lower-body injury, Mike Weber has taken on a visible leadership role within the team by wearing an “A” on his jersey.
However, before Monday’s game, Weber passed the honor on to Kaleta, a Buffalo native and currently the longest-tenured Sabre on the roster. Kaleta made his NHL debut with Buffalo back on Feb. 22, 2007.
“It’s probably the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. You dream about playing for the Buffalo Sabres – let alone wearing a letter. It means the world to me,” Kaleta said. “When I heard about it this morning, Webs and Teddy went up front and presented me with the jersey. I probably teared up a little bit if you look closely, but good thing the room was dark.
“I couldn’t say much more about Webs. He’s a guy that has been with me for eight years and the way he plays the game and the way he carries himself is something guys around here should learn from and I love being his teammate.”
With the win, the Sabres improved to 15-1-1 in their last 17 home games against the Maple Leafs. The Leafs haven't won in Buffalo since Jan. 29, 2013. The home team has now won the last 11 games in this series.
Moulson's goal gave him 18 points (11+7) in his past 13 games against Toronto, dating back to the beginning of the 2011-12 season. He has 24 points (16+8) in 24 career games against the Maple Leafs.
With only five games to play in the season, the Sabres will host the Chicago Blackhawks at First Niagara Center on Friday at 7 p.m. The Tops Game Night pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.