BUFFALO, N.Y. – It’s never safe to count out the Buffalo Sabres.
In a season in which they’ve already mounted a remarkable second-half surge to climb back into playoff contention, the Sabres showed yet another frantic flare for dramatics by overcoming a three-goal deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-5 in overtime on Tuesday night.
Derek Roy sealed the win by scoring his second goal 3:29 into overtime after Alexander Sulzer and Jordan Leopold scored in the final 5:03 of regulation as the Sabres twice rallied from two-goal third-period deficits in a game they never led until the final score.
Rather than inching closer to being eliminated, Buffalo (39-31-10) snapped a two-game skid and pulled even with eighth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have two games left, though the Capitals hold the tiebreaker edge.
“This means a lot. It means we didn’t roll over and die,” Roy said. “Our will was better than theirs I thought.”
Trailing 3-0 and booed off the ice after the first period, and in their home finale no less, this wasn’t the first time the Sabres have been counted out this year. They were regarded as one of the NHL’s biggest flops in January, before mounting what’s now become a 20-7-5 run over their past 32 games.
Sulzer had two goals and an assist and Tyler Ennis had a goal and assist for Buffalo, which bounced back from a 4-3 loss at Toronto on Saturday.
Tyler Bozak had two goals and an assist, Phil Kessel had three assists and Matt Frattin had a goal and assist for a Maple Leafs team that’s playing out the string in missing the playoffs for a seventh straight year.
Roy’s decisive goal came on the power-play during a scramble in front, after goalie Ben Scrivens stopped Thomas Vanek from jamming the puck in at the left post. The puck squirted into the slot where Roy snapped it over Scrivens’ left shoulder.
“Today was one of those days where we could’ve found ourselves losing that game 5-0,” Leopold said. “It didn’t work out that way, because we decided to dig in and push it all the way.”
Digging in might have been the operative word because the Sabres wouldn’t have been in a position to win if not for Leopold’s self-described “pitchfork goal” that came during a mad scramble in front to force overtime with 1:53 left.
Scrivens made the initial stop on Marcus Foligno, but was unable to control the rebound. That resulted in a tangle of bodies crushing around the crease. Scrivens dropped his stick, and had several teammates lying in front as Foligno, flat on his back, Tyler Ennis and Leopold took turns at jamming at the puck.
With referee Mike Hasenfratz standing to the left of the net, keeping his eye on the puck, Leopold finally got his stick free and somehow poked it in.
“That’s not how you draw them up, but it was a hell of a way to win it,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “That game had everything.”
The Maple Leafs had a different view of the outcome.
“Gut-wrenching,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “Everything went our way early, and then everything went against us late in the hockey game.”
In fear of being disciplined by the NHL for criticizing officials, Carlyle sidestepped a question as to whether he thought the play should’ve been whistled dead.
“If I say what I wanted to say, we’d be reading about a nominal fine for the coach of the Maple Leafs,” Carlyle said. “I have no comment on what happened out there.”
What happened is the Maple Leafs somehow squandered a three-goal lead for the second time this season, after blowing a 4-1 third-period lead in a 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Jan. 31.
Buffalo, by comparison, rallied to win after trailing by three goals for the first time since a 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta on Jan. 1, 2010
After a sloppy first period, the Sabres mustered a response with a dominating second period, in which they cut the lead to 3-2 on goals by Ennis and Sulzer, while outshooting the Leafs 19-6. Toronto appeared to regain the momentum to start the third period, when former Sabres player Clarke MacArthur converted Joey Crabb’s centring pass 1:28 in.
Roy responded by scoring 56 seconds later, but the Leafs regained a two-goal edge on rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner’s goal with 9:21 left.
“It’s one win, but it gives us some momentum,” Leopold said. “It was one of those games where I think everybody in the stands and media was waiting for that one to turn out worse than it ended up being. For us, we pulled together and found a way to win.”
NOTES: Maple Leafs D Carl Gunnarsson sustained an upper body injury after being on the receiving end of a heavy shoulder-to-shoulder hit by Foligno 12 seconds in. Gunnarsson did not return after playing one more shift. … Sabres D Robyn Regehr appeared in his 900th career game, ranking 19th on the active list among defencemen. … The Sabres finished their home schedule with a franchise-best attendance average of 18,687, about 450 better than their previous high set in 2009-10. Buffalo sold out 39 of 40 home games this year, not including their season “home-opener” at Helsinki, Finland.