BUFFALO, New York (AP) — Paul Gaustad scored midway through the
third period to help the Buffalo Sabres avoid a second-half
meltdown in a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday
Ryan Miller stopped 33 shots, including the first 16 he faced,
to earn his 30th win of the season in his first game back after
missing 13 because of a sprained left ankle.
Tim Connolly scored twice, Jochen Hecht had a goal and an assist
and Daniel Paille also scored for a Buffalo team that nearly
squandered a 4-0 lead.
The win set up a key Eastern Conference playoff showdown
Saturday, when Buffalo travels to face Montreal. With 80 points
and eight games left, the Sabres are in 10th place in the East,
five points behind Montreal, which holds the eighth and final
Gaustad’s goal was key, scored with 9:04 left and coming less
than three minutes after Matt Stajan and Nikolai Kulemin scored
43 seconds apart to cut it to 4-3.
Hecht set up the goal by driving up the right wing and getting
off a hard shot that rookie backup goalie Justin Pogge stopped,
but he lost the puck underneath his equipment, creating a
scramble in the crease. The puck eventually squirted loose into
the slot, where Toronto defender Ian White’s clearing attempt
struck Gaustad and caromed into the open net.
Stajan and Boyd Devereaux had a goal and assist each for the
11th-place Maple Leafs, who lost for only the second time in six
games (4-2-0) and are all but mathematically eliminated from
Miller had little support on the three goals he allowed –
including Kulemin’s, which came during a scramble in front and
after Miller made a diving stop to foil Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Miller, otherwise, showed little signs of rust or effects of the
injury and was particularly sharp in the first period, when he
made 14 saves – including two on bang-bang chances by Stajan
from the right circle.
The same could not be said for the goaltending at the Toronto
end. Veteran Curtis Joseph had a tough outing. He allowed four
goals on nine shots and was yanked 3:30 into the second period
after Paille and Connolly scored 21 seconds apart.
Joseph earned his 351st career loss to move within one of
matching Gump Worsley’s NHL record.