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Leafs 4, Sabres 2: Division Celebration Will Have to Wait

TORONTO…One can make this observation when attending a Toronto Maple Leafs game at the Air Canada Centre… 5000 Leafs fans descending on to HSBC Arena for a Sabres/Leafs game make far more noise and hub bub than a full house here in Toronto.

Tonight the announced usual sellout crowd, sprinkled with more than a few no shows in the platinums, golds and reds, watched the Maple Leafs break their 10 game losing streak to the Sabres which stretched back to 2008. A goal by Viktor Stalberg and his first goal of the season by press box denizen Garnet Exelby gave the Leafs their scoring in the first two periods, while Derek Roy and Steve Montador answered for the Sabres to keep the score tied after two.

Ryan Miller was once again spectacular in net, shoring up a sub par defensive performance most of the night, where defenders were routinely knocked off the puck and giveaways in the slot. Toni Lydman’s glaring cross ice giveaway in the second period led to a breakaway by Rickard Wallin, who was then stoned by Miller.

Buffalo then killed a 5 on 3 penalty for over 30 seconds late in the second period.

Toronto took a 3-2 lead midway through the third period, when Luke Schenn’s laser off the point sailed by Miller. That goal proved to be the game winner.

“We got ourselves into penalty trouble, we got into trouble in our own end, we got outshot. It was a terrible effort,” said a clearly agitated Miller after the game. Calling out his teammates, he added, ” Just winning as a habit is what we’re trying to focus on. That was not good. I was not impressed with that effort. It’s back to back, but coming off a game where we didn’t get much of a challenge from Florida. They looked like they were out to lunch. So it’s not going to be that simple it’s not going to be that way every night.”

Buffalo went on the power play with 7 minutes left in the game but could not mount any decent scoring threat. Toronto played an almost flawless backcheck and forecheck game to then limit Buffalo’s chances.

The Sabres pulled the goaltender with a about a minute and a half left, but the Leafs then sealed the deal with an empty net goal by Fredrcik Sjostrom to make the final score, 4-2, Toronto.

Jason Pominville said that what didn’t work for Buffalo was the puck movement. “They capitalized on the few opportunities they got. We sort of handed this to them. We definitely weren’t good enough tonight. They skated better.”

One of the spark plugs for the team continues to be Tyler Ennis, who tallied an assist tonight and was generally in the mix on every shift. “We took too many penalties, those things kind of cost us.” Ennis is making his presence felt here one game at a time. “I’m taking it day by day, game by game, I’ve only had five games in this league right now so I’m just trying to have fun and work hard and help the team.”

Ennis was excited at having the opportunity to make his on ice debut at such hallowed venues as Toronto, and come Saturday, in Montreal. “I dreamed of being in the NHL and grew up watching it as a kid. Now I’m sitting here and in buildings like this, players I grew up watching are now right across from me. I’m just taking it all in right now.”

With Ottawa winning in a shootout tonight, the magic number to clinch the Northeast Division remains at four, meaning any four points that Buffalo claims or is denied to the Senators puts Buffalo in that third spot in the seedings. Ottawa’s schedule is far easier though, facing all non playoff teams while the Sabres tee off against Montreal, New York and Boston next, all teams desperately seeking points to stay in the playoff hunt.

Both Buffalo and Ottawa will play Saturday. The Sens play the New York Islanders in the afternoon, while Buffalo now heads to Montreal to take on the Canadiens at the Bell Centre later that evening.