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article imageHabit forming: Leafs tame Sabres in fourth consecutive shootout Special

By Dave Pitman     Dec 28, 2013 in Sports
Toronto - Contrary to the Buffalo Sabres, who had won three of their last four games, The Toronto Maple Leafs headed into the Christmas holidays in a bit of a slump.
They lost seven of their last nine games, but on the first game back after the Christmas break Friday night, Toronto would add to the win column once again. Despite being last place in the NHL, The Sabres had gotten the better of the Maple Leafs this season, going 2-1 on the year thus far. Buffalo has a history of giving Toronto trouble; Toronto has a record of 67-97-18-8 all time against the Sabres. Ryan Miller has a lot to do with Toronto's struggles, and he would start again tonight. Ryan Miller came into the game 31-15-1 all time against the Leafs with a 2.44 GAA and .922 save percentage. He has more wins and shutouts against the Leafs than any other team he's faced. It's no question that Miller is an all-star goalie, but he's been sensational against Toronto in his career. At the other end, his counterpart would be Jonathan Bernier who would look to lead the Leafs to just their second regulation win since November 19th. Bernier lost to Buffalo back on November 15th 3-1 in Buffalo.
NHL enforcer John Scott would suit up for his 200th career game Friday night. Scott and the Leafs have some history after the infamous line brawl back in the preseason that Scott started by going after Kessel, a player half his size. Bernier and Miller also dropped the gloves in the riot that ensued. Later in the year, Scott would call Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf a "princess" following a loss. Phaneuf never responded to the comment.
The home team has won the last five games when Toronto and Buffalo have faced off, and that would stay consistent tonight as the Leafs made it six.
Toronto seemed nowhere to be found when the puck dropped. Sloppy play defined the frame for the Leafs and the Sabres would take full advantage. Out-muscling the Leafs players, Zemgus Girgensons would carry the puck around the net before Toronto native Matt Moulson would slide it by Bernier to take the 1-0 lead for Buffalo. Shortly after, John Scott was presented with a gift of a rebound off a Bernier pad save and would bury it in for his first of the year, and just the second of his career. For Scott, a six-foot-eight, 259-pound “enforcer”, that ended a 164-game goal drought. A series of turnovers from Jake Gardiner combined with unmotivated play from the rest of the Leafs squad had Buffalo sitting 2-0, outshooting the Leafs 15-10 at the end of the first period.
The second period would be an entirely different story. The Leafs came out looking as though they were a completely different team. They set the pace and seemed comfortable in keeping it. A few errant penalties and some incredible goaltending from the Sabres kept momentum from swaying too far to the Maple Leafs corner. Mid-period, however, Jake Gardiner would unload a bullet from the blue line that would beat Miller who was screened on the play. The goal was Gardiner's second of the season and seemed to wake the crowds of the Air Canada Centre. They began taunting chants at the Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. The crowds taunts rained down on the all-star net minder. A few minutes later, Mason Raymond worked the puck around the boards to the corner where he was tripped by a Sabres defenseman and drew a penalty, but before the play was called dead the Maple Leafs would strike again. The referee signalled for a delayed penalty when Raymond was tripped to his knees but Raymond made a brilliant pass out front, while still on his knees, to Peter Holland who would score the tying goal. The power clearly shifted to Toronto's side and they didn't let up. On the next Power play, a Phaneuf slap shot would rebound to James Van Riemsdyk who fed a wide-open Phil Kessel out front and he'd score the go-ahead goal, his 18th of the season. The Leafs ended the period out-shooting The Sabres 27-20.
The third period proved as entertaining as the second. Toronto dictated the pace once again, but a scare came when Sabres Captain Steve Ott collided with Jonathan Bernier. Bernier left the net as he often does, and an off balance Steve Ott collided with him at a pretty fast pace. Bernier lay on the ice in some discomfort while Reimer began to warm up. It seems, however, Bernier may have just been winded as he stayed in the game. With less than a minute to play, and net pulled, the Sabres would give it one last effort and Steve Ott would score on a scramble in front to tie the game up and send it in to overtime.
Overtime solved nothing, and Toronto would be forced into its fourth shootout in just as many games. The Leafs were 1-2 in the previous three shootouts, the win going to Reimer, the losses to Bernier. However, Jonathan Bernier would stop all three shots against and Lupul scored a beautiful backhand that propelled the Maple Leafs to the victory.
In his post game presser, Coach Randy Carlyle explained to reporters that he wasn’t all that impressed with his team's play early on.
“We didn’t react well to the game until we got past twenty minutes…” Carlyle said, “…We got back on track but we need to put together a full 60 minutes.”
Jonathan Bernier wasn’t injured on his collision with Steve Ott in the third period. “I just lost my wind. That’s why I didn’t really get up, I was just taking a second and getting my breath back.” Bernier lost his two previous games in shootout and tried to be more prepared for Friday night. “That’s the thing about shoot outs, you have highs and lows… I changed a few things and felt more comfortable.”
Cody Franson also commented on the shoot out. “You try not to get too high when you win them, you try not to get too low when you lose them.”
For Peter Holland, Friday nights game was especially important.
“My grandma passed away over the holidays and she told me she wished she could have seen me play at the Air Canada Centre…” Holland told reporters in the dressing room after the game, “… So that one was for her.”
Coach Carlyle didn’t have too much to say in regards to the shoot out. The coach was more focused on his team’s next matchup.
“Do we like shoot outs? No…now we look to Carolina.”
The Maple Leafs will host the Carolina Hurricanes (14-15-9) on Sunday night in Toronto. The game will mark the return of Centre man Tyler Bozak who has been on the IR with a hamstring issue. The Maple Leafs are 13-8-1 while playing at home this season.
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