BUFFALO, N.Y. – Steve Ott has quickly won over blue-collar Buffalo fans with his hard-hitting, gritty style, and the forward should become even more popular following a handful of clutch goals.
Ott had the decisive score in the sixth round of the shootout and the Sabres rallied for a 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
Two nights earlier, Ott scored twice, including one in overtime, in a 3-2 win at Montreal. And his shootout attempt against Toronto was his first since Oct. 25, 2011, and the fifth overall in his nine-year NHL career.
“I was excited. I’m just glad I was able to go before my ‘brother’ Mike Weber,” Ott said with a laugh, referring to Buffalo’s defensive-minded defenceman.
Interim coach Ron Rolston had plenty of confidence in Ott, whose role has gradually increased since being acquired in a trade that sent under-performing centre Derek Roy to Dallas last summer.
“He was the guy to go to,” Rolston said. “He brings a lot of energy to the team and especially the grit he plays with on a consistent basis. He can be put out in all situations.”
With the crowd on its feet cheering Ott to the ice, he drove directly at James Reimer and slipped the puck just inside the right post. Ryan Miller then sealed the win by getting his left pad out to stop former Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur.
Christian Ehrhoff had a goal and two assists for Buffalo, which won consecutive games for only the fourth time this season. Tyler Ennis had a goal and an assist, and Marcus Foligno and Jason Pominville also scored.
Miller stopped 30 shots through overtime, and allowed only Tyler Bozak to score in the tiebreaker.
Nazem Kadri had two goals and an assist for Toronto, which was unable to build off a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay a day earlier. Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski also scored in regulation.
Reimer made 32 saves through OT, but allowed two goals in the shootout, including one to Drew Stafford.
Reimer has allowed four goals in five of seven starts since he returned after missing eight games with a knee injury, but he said there was no reason to be concerned.
“When you score four, you should win. But at least we got a point, which is important,” he said. “No reason to pull the alarm, but obviously it’s something we’re aware of.”
And Reimer became confused when asked about the Leafs dropping to 1-3-3 in their past seven.
“To me, that’s one game over .500, if that make sense,” Reimer said, laughing. “I don’t know if it does. Maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. Too many pucks to the head.”
Bozak and Kadri scored 76 seconds apart to put the Leafs ahead 2-0 midway through the first period. And Toronto appeared in control 8:52 into the second, when Grabovski deflected in Jake Gardiner’s shot from the blue line to make it a 3-1 advantage.
The Sabres responded by scoring the next three, capped by Ehrhoff’s blast from the blue line 22 seconds into the third.
The Maple Leafs responded six minutes later. Kadri was battling Buffalo’s Jordan Leopold in front when he managed to deflect in Cody Franson’s shot from the right circle.
Accustomed to blowing two-goal leads, as Buffalo at Montreal on Tuesday, the Sabres showed they could overcome them, too.
“We didn’t quit,” Miller said. “We battled back and got a lead, which is great.”
The Sabres also didn’t shy away from the Maple Leafs’ physical style.
Maple Leafs forward Colton Orr was ejected 2:09 in after he broke his stick in two cross-checking Patrick Kaleta off a face-off. That sparked a fight between Orr and Kaleta as well as the teams’ two heavyweights, Buffalo’s John Scott and Toronto’s Frazer McLaren.
And Ott made his presence known by exchanging several shoves with Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf in the opening minutes.
“We matched size for size, hit for hit,” Ott said. “That’s why it was a 4-4 game in a shootout at the end of it all.”
NOTES: The Maple Leafs were without LW Joffrey Lupul, who was suspended two games by the NHL earlier in the day for an illegal hit to the head of Tampa Bay defenceman Victor Hedman a day earlier. … The Sabres were minus leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who is day to day after being struck by a shot in the right hip in a 3-2 OT win at Montreal on Tuesday. … C Kadri entered the game with a team-leading 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games. At 22, he became the team’s youngest player to reach 30 points in 30 games since 22-year-old Ed Olczyk did it in 1988-89.