Star centre Daniel Briere scores winner as Sabres beat rival Leafs

Briere, who leads the Sabres in scoring with 30 points (10-20) in 22 games, took a pass in the slot from Daniel Paille after a giveaway by Andrew Raycroft and beat the Leafs netminder glove-side, breaking a 4-4 tie and igniting a raucous celebration from the sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena.

Jason Pominville and Chris Drury scored empty-net goals to send fans happy on the eve of U.S. Thanksgiving.

Maxim Afinogenov, Jiri Novotny and Brian Campbell also scored for the high-flying Sabres, who improved to an NHL-best 18-3-1 and avenged a 4-1 loss here Nov. 4 to the same Leafs.

Darcy Tucker had his team-leading 14th and 15th goals while Kyle Wellwood and Jeff O’Neill also replied for the Leafs (12-7-4), who showed some game in erasing a 4-2 deficit and giving the Sabres all they could handle once again this season.

Sabres goalie Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots, including a point-blank save on Tucker late in the game with the Leafs on a power play.

The Leafs outshot the Sabres 36-29.

Referees Brad Meier and Dean Morton did their best to ruin an emotional tilt, calling too many penalties, many of them borderline. Ten hooking calls were assessed, seven on the Sabres.

The Leafs were up 2-0 less then four minutes into the game thanks to a pair of 5-on-3 goals, Tucker’s trademark one-timer from the side opening the scoring at 2;19 and Wellwood flicking the backboards rebound into an open side at 3:44.

The parade to the penalty box continued and Afinogenov flipped in his own rebound on a Buffalo power play to cut the lead to 2-1 at 10:27.

Novotny, alone in front, tied the game 2-2 when he beat a helpless Raycroft with a wrist shot from in-close at 12:37.

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The Sabres carried the momentum into the middle period, Briere one-timing a shot past Raycroft after a jaw-dropping, no-look backhand pass from Thomas Vanek 1:54 into the second on yet anothe power play.

Campbell followed up his own shot and poked in a shot past Raycroft just 1:11 later and it was suddenly 4-2 Sabres, Leafs coach Paul Maurice calling a timeout to settled down his rattled club.

It worked.

The Leafs played much better after that, although they got lucky to make it 4-3 at 14:55, O’Neill’s shot stopped by Miller but inadvertantly deflected in by Sabres rookie Michael Ryan, a Boston native playing his first NHL game.

Buoyed by “Go Leafs Go” chants from the few thousand Ontario residents on hand, Tucker tied 4-4 when he crashed the net 7:38 into the third period and knocked in a rebound on Tomas Kaberle’s wrist shot, setting up a wild finish between the rivals.

Notes: Andy Murray, who lost out to Ken Hitchcock for the coaching vacancy in Columbus, was scouting the Leafs-Sabres game for Montreal. The Habs are in Buffalo on Friday night … The Leafs fell to 5-18-3 since HSBC Arena opened … Rookie defenceman Brendan Bell was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row … The Leafs next play Friday at Washington and return home Saturday to host Boston. Leafs captain Mats Sundin (elbow) could possibly be back as early as Saturday. He was injured Nov. 6 in a game against Philadelphia … The Sabres are 9-1 in one-goal games this season.