BUFFALO -- There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong in Joseph Woll's NHL debut.
With the Maple Leafs leading 4-2 in the third period, the Buffalo Sabres scored two goals in 59 seconds to tie the game.
You wouldn't have blamed the rookie if the goals allowed put an element of doubt into his head. In fact, the latter goal occurred seconds after a collision at the net forced Woll to lose sight of his goal stick. Instead of grabbing his own paddle, Woll picked up Mitch Marner's stick and was unable to stop Rasmus Dahlin shot from the point.
"I think that's another thing I can grow in," Woll said. "Just within the chaos to try and be as calm as I can."
Woll made 23 saves as the Maple Leafs defeated the Sabres 5-4. Morgan Rielly scored the winner with 11.8 seconds to go in regulation to help the team win eight of their last nine games.
Woll got his chance after an injury to Petr Mrazek and some underperformance by third-stringer Michael Hutchinson forced Toronto to look at other options.
Although he hasn't posted a save percentage above .900 in three pro seasons with the Toronto Marlies, Woll said last week that he's worked on himself both on the ice and as a person during the pandemic.
It helped him shake off any bad thoughts when his two-goal lead vanished within a minute.
"I think a lot of times you can try to predict the future or catastrophize a little bit with what can happen there," Woll said. "At that point, I really just said to myself 'just enjoy being out here with this group'. It was a pretty special outcome."
And that's the maturity and mental progression the team had been hoping to see from the goaltender they selected in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
He had his moments against the Sabres, but he came out of it with a victory, despite the team not playing well.
"I thought he played really well," Rielly said of Woll. "Obviously there's areas of our game that we'd like to clean up but the fact that he gets to walk out of here with a game puck and everything like that is awesome. He deserves it and there's plenty more where that came from."
The Maple Leafs made changes to all four forward lines on Saturday. Ondrej Kase saw a promotion to the first line and is on a three-game scoring streak after scoring in the second period.
David Kampf, opened the scoring for the Leafs with an odd shot at the net that went under Sabres defenseman Robert Hagg and into the net.
Michael Bunting scored Toronto's third goal and snapped a five-game scoring drought, despite being demoted to the fourth line.
Despite all of the changes, the Leafs were heavily outshot in the first two periods and Woll had to be sharp early on.
Buffalo's Dylan Cozens had a high-danger scoring chance just 32 seconds into the game. Woll sprawled across the net to get his pad on the puck and made this save.
That set the tone for a difficult start to the period for the Leafs, who were outshot 13-5.
"We wanted to do a better job of giving him a chance of easing him into the game," Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
In the second period, the Leafs were marginally better in terms of generating chances, but not much.
"I thought our first two periods were dreadful," Keefe said.
John Tavares scored his eighth goal of the season while on the power-play. Toronto's special teams were a perfect 1-for-1 with the man-advantage and 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.
The Sabres dominated the game in terms of possession but the slow start by the Leafs left Keefe with a bit of a bittersweet taste after the game. His team has won eight of his last nine games but slow starts have been a theme.
"We've been getting a lot of points here as of late," Keefe said. "We know we've got to play better."