BUFFALO, N.Y. – It took relative newcomer Joey Crabb to show the Toronto Maple Leafs what it takes to win in Buffalo.
Crabb scored his first goal of the season, and fifth of his career, on a short-handed rush midway through the third period to spark a 2-1 win over the Sabres on Wednesday night. The Maple Leafs ended a seven-game losing streak at Buffalo, dating to Dec. 12, 2008, and beat their cross-border and Northeast Division rival for only the second time in 15 meetings.
“I’ve been here for one game before this, and we talked about how we’ve struggled here,” Crabb said. “So it was a big goal that helped the team out in a place we haven’t had much success.”
And no need to tell goalie James Reimer how much trouble the Leafs have had against the Sabres.
Bouncing back after allowing five goals on 30 shots in a 6-2 loss at Buffalo 10 days ago, Reimer stopped 14 shots to earn the win. He did it in relief of starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who watched the final two periods from the bench after sustaining an undisclosed lower body injury.
“It was good. I enjoyed this,” Reimer said. “In the back of my mind I was hoping I would get this game. I wanted to prove you could beat this team.”
Phil Kessel also scored for Toronto, which is climbing back in the playoff picture. Coming off a 4-3 win at Boston on Tuesday, the Maple Leafs are 6-2-1 in their past nine and have moved into 11th place ahead of Florida. With 56 points, Toronto is six behind the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes.
The Sabres squandered an opportunity to catch the Hurricanes by losing to a team they’ve dominated since the NHL lockout. They are 29-10-1 against Toronto since the 2005-06 season.
“Tonight was a tough one for us,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. “They played a little bit of a smarter game than we’ve seen from them in the past.”
Paul Gaustad scored the lone goal for Buffalo, cutting Toronto’s lead to 2-1 with 9:40 left. The Maple Leafs’ defence, however, limited Buffalo to only four shots the rest of the way.
Crabb’s goal proved decisive in providing the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead with 11:31 remaining and coming shortly after the Sabres appeared to take the momentum by killing off Toronto’s two-man advantage.
While teammate Carl Gunnarsson served a hooking penalty, Crabb burst up the right wing and attempted to get around Buffalo’s Jordan Leopold in front of the net. Crabb was bumped by Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek with a hit that allowed Crabb to regain his balance and sweep a shot past Miller, who was leaning to his right.
“I was trying to go far side, and before I knew it, I was back on the strong side and I had the puck with me and just put it in the empty net,” he said. “I almost blacked out there,” Crabb added with a laugh.
Signed by the Leafs as a free agent last summer, Crabb opened the season in the minors and was playing in only his 26th game for Toronto.
Too many turnovers and not enough flair cost the Sabres, who were coming off a 3-2 shootout win at Montreal on Tuesday after erasing a two-goal deficit.
“We started well, but as the game went on, we lacked energy,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “Sometimes you drain energy from an emotional game.”
After outshooting the Leafs 9-5 in the first period, Buffalo was outshot 25-15 over the final 40 minutes.
Notes: Miller stopped 28 shots, and had a much better outing in his first game since allowing seven goals on 26 shots in a 7-6 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday. Miller had started 31 straight games before Jhonas Enroth stopped 32 shots at Montreal. … The Sabres began a season-high, six-game homestand, which ends against Detroit on Feb. 26. Buffalo will then have a seven-game trip. … Toronto went 0 for 3 with the man-advantage and hasn’t scored a power-play goal in 11 games against Buffalo, dating to March 27, 2009. The Maple Leafs have scored short-handed goals two straight games against the Sabres.