Running the gauntlet of a tough October schedule and coming out unscathed with 23 points in 12 games made the Buffalo Sabres seem invincible. In fact, some attendees at Buffalo's 13th game of the season on Saturday night were even displaying "81-0-1" signs. But it was only a matter of time before the unthinkable and inevitable happened.
Playing a more disciplined game and out skating the Sabres through two periods, the Toronto Maple Leafs handed Buffalo their first regulation loss of the 2006-07 season, a 4-1 beating in HSBC Arena.
In the first match-up between the bitter rivals this season, Buffalo was out gunned, out executed and less disciplined. Had it not been for the play of goaltender Ryan Miller
, who made 29 saves, the Sabres would have seen more than four Toronto shots enter the net.
"We had frustration with some of the calls and we lost a little composure," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "We didn't channel our frustration in the right direction and it cost us."
Buffalo opened the game looking like the dominating team that had won its first 10 games, but as the team pilled up 17 minutes in penalties in the opening two periods, killing man-short situations began to kill momentum. Mats Sundin nullified the lead Jochen Hecht
provided midway through the first with three minutes remaining in the period and Darcy Tucker opened a three-goal run by the Leafs in the second period with a two-man advantage.
"We couldn't get out of our zone very well and didn't adjust quick enough," said Miller. "We needed more support in our zone and our defense just wasn't clicking."
But the greatest damage to the team from Saturday night didn't come in loss column. Maxim Afinogenov suffered an upper-body injury after crashing headfirst into broads five minutes into the game and will be out of the lineup for an undisclosed period of time.
"[Afinogenov, Derek Roy
and Thomas Vanek
] had been our best line," said Ruff. "Are we going to miss him? Darn right, we're going to miss him. But now it's somebody else's opportunity."
Driving to the net along the right wing, Hecht fended off defenseman Brendan Bell with his left arm and slipped the puck between Andrew Raycroft's pads to give Buffalo the 1-0 lead at 7:07 of the first.
The goal was Hecht's third goal of the season.
With his first of the night, Mats Sundin tied the game with three minutes remaining in the opening period. Stationed in front of the net, Sundin redirected Kyle Wellwood pass from the halfwall for his seventh of the season at 17:12.
The Leafs took their first lead in the game with a two-man advantage midway through the second.
Controlling the puck along the left boards, Sundin slipped a pass through the crease to Darcy Tucker at the backdoor for the easy redirect into a wide-open net at 9:20. The goal is Tucker's 10th of the season.
Two minutes later, Toronto's expanded their lead to a pair off a nice play by Matt Stajan behind the goal line. Curling behind the net, Stajan fired the puck to Jeff O'Neill at the right face-off slot for the one-timer and O'Neill's fifth goal of the season at the 11:59 mark of the second.
Matt Stajan curls around the back of the net and found Jeff O'Neill at the right face-off slot for the one-timer and a two-goal Toronto lead. The goal is O'Neill's fifth of the season. Alex Steen gets the second assist.
Off a give-and-go with Ian White, Sundin scored his second of the night and eighth of the season. Collecting a loose puck in the neutral zone, the Leafs' captain cruised into the Buffalo's zone, slipped the puck to White cutting down the slot and one-timed White's return pass from the goal line over Miller's right shoulder at 12:44 of the second.
Game Summary | Super Stats | Face-offs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart