Darcy Tucker, Toronto’s emotional leader, scored two goals Saturday night and the Maple Leafs kept their playoff hopes alive, shaking off a devastating defeat in Buffalo 24 hours earlier to hand the Sabres a 4-1 loss.
Nik Antropov and Carlo Colaiacovo also scored for the Leafs (36-29-10), who remained 11th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Montreal and Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot and one point behind the 10th-place New York Islanders. The Canadiens, Hurricanes and Islanders also won Saturday.
Despite Friday’s heart-wrenching loss, Toronto wrapped a up week with two out of three wins against New Jersey and Buffalo – not too shabby.
Jochen Hecht scored the lone goal for the Sabres (48-20-7), who played only one good period out of six this weekend but still managed a split in the home-and-home set.
Andrew Raycroft was solid in goal for Toronto a night after taking the large share of the blame from radio callers for the Leafs’ third-period collapse in a 5-4 loss at HSBC Arena.
The Leafs got the perfect tonic early for their confidence, which was surely shaken after Friday night’s debacle. Tucker one-timed a shot from his usual spot down low on the power play just 3:28 into the game, bringing the Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,571 to life.
Toronto then dominated for the most of the period, outshooting Buffalo 16-3 before the Sabres tied it on their fourth shot. Hecht beat Raycroft from an acute angle with only 1:03 left, a goal that sucked the wind out of the building.
Tucker got the fans re-energized just 1:45 into the second period, whistling a wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle into the top corner over Miller’s glove side.
Colaiacovo made it 3-1 just 1:49 later when his shot along the ice from the top of the slot beat Miller inside the post. That goal that chased the star Sabres netminder to the bench in favour of backup Ty Conklin.
Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere then had a glorious chance to cut into the lead, skating in alone from centre ice, but his backhand deke was stopped by Raycroft.
Raycroft, who hasn’t been shown the love by Leaf fans this season, kept it a two-goal lead when he stopped Jason Pominville on a breakaway early in the third period.
Antropov then tipped a Bryan McCabe shot at 5:04 to give the Leafs a 4-1 lead – and this time the Toronto wouldn’t give it up.
Notes: Ottawa’s win at Tampa Bay on Saturday moved the Senators five points behind the Sabres for first place in the Eastern Conference with two weeks to go in the regular season … Jeff O’Neill was a surprise scratch for the Leafs. Defencemen Wade Belak and Andrew Wozniewski and forward Travis Green were also left behind. … Rick Vaive was honoured by the Leafs during the game for the 25th anniversary of his first 50-goal season. It was exactly 25 years ago Saturday night that Vaive scored No. 50 in a game against St. Louis. … The Leafs host Carolina on Tuesday and play at Atlanta on Thursday.