The Sabres never trailed in a game that featured good scoring chances on both sides and forced backup goalie Martin Biron to shine for Buffalo. And that was a major difference in the game, Biron making 32 saves and outplaying his counterpart Andrew Raycroft, who stopped 25 of 29 shots.
Alex Kotalik and Dmitri Kalinin also scored for the Sabres (30-9-3), who avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season while earning their 30th win of the campaign.
Pavel Kubina, Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen replied for the Leafs (19-18-6), who were coming off double drubbings of the Boston Bruins. The Leafs were full value despite the loss to Buffalo, matching the speed and quickness of the first-place Sabres in an evenly played affair.
It was the Leafs that came out gangbusters early and forced Biron to make a big save on Mats Sundin in the first minute. But then the Sabres composed themselves and stunned the hosts with a pair of goals 39 seconds apart, both of them floaters from the blue-line that beat a screened Raycroft.
First Kalinin’s slapshot from the left point found the top corner on Raycroft’s glove side at 4:18, then Drury’s wrist shot from the right point went top corner and stick side at 4:57.
Colaiacovo scored in similar fashion with 2:11 left in the opening period, his wrist shot from the blue-line beating a screened Biron top corner on the glove side to cut the lead to 2-1.
Briere restored Buffalo’s two-goal lead 3:47 into the second period with one of the prettiest goals of the season, finishing off a three-way passing play with a patient backhand deke on Raycroft, waiting for the Leafs goalie to commit himself before depositing the puck in the net.
The crowd of 19,487 at Air Canada Centre roared, however, at 12:53 of the second period when Steen cut the lead to 3-2 after banging in a rebound on a 5-on-3 power play.
Kotalik scored the back-breaker though with only 1:43 left in the middle period, his solo rush up the ice ending with a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that picked the top corner, glove side, on Raycroft, who was jeered by some of the fans for not stopping a shot he should have had.
Kubina made it interesting when he scored with 4:32 left in the third period, his blast form the top of the right faceoff circle caroming off Biron’s catching glove, a shot Biron should have had and he knew it. It was Kubina’s first goal of the season.
It appeared as though Toronto’s hopes ended when Leafs winger Jeff O’Neill took a slashing penalty with 58 seconds to go. But John Pohl missed an open net with 25 seconds to go as the Leafs staged one last feverish rally.
Notes: Biron improved to 9-2-1 on the season, starter Ryan Miller getting the rest after starting Friday night’s 4-2 loss at home to Pittsburgh … The crowd was on its feet for a pre-game ceremony that honoured six world junior gold medallists: Sam Gagner, Steve Downie, Andrew Cogliano, James Neal, Ryan Parent and Ryan O’Marra … The Leafs next host Carolina on Tuesday before playing the Sabres again Thursday in Buffalo … The Sabres play at Chicago on Wednesday before hosting the Leafs.