The Buffalo Sabres could not have imagined a much better second period than the one they had Monday. Now they would like to erase memories of one of their worst this season.
The Sabres face one of only two teams to hand them a regulation loss this season when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
The only meeting between these teams in 2006-07 came on Nov. 4. Buffalo had not lost in regulation all season with an 11-0-1 record, and the Maple Leafs lost all four of their games at HSBC Arena last season.
Neither of those streaks mattered much because Toronto took control in the second period, outscoring the Sabres 3-0 while outshooting them 17-4. The Leafs went on for a 4-1 victory, dealing the Sabres one of their three home losses this season.
“Make no mistake about it, they dodged some bullets this year,” Toronto center Michael Peca said after the win. “This bullet hit them. There’s two angles—it’s either a major upset, or they’re going to lose one eventually, so no big deal.”
The only other team to beat Buffalo in regulation is Ottawa, which has done it twice, including a 4-1 victory on Saturday.
The Sabres (17-3-1) bounced back with an astonishing seven-goal second period on Monday to beat Tampa Bay 7-2. Buffalo also did not allow a goal in the second, and has a 37-24 scoring advantage in that period this season.
“It’s pretty fun and special, but we can’t just turn it on,” said Paul Gaustad, who had two goals and an assist. “We have to play our system, and we’ll get our chances to put the puck away.”
“We don’t like to lose,” Gaustad said. “There was a letdown in Ottawa, and we got back on track tonight.”
Buffalo also had a big letdown against Toronto earlier this month, but could benefit from the absence of Mats Sundin in the rematch. The Leafs captain, expected to miss at least one more week with a torn elbow ligament, had two goals and an assist in the first meeting.
While Toronto (12-6-4) will be missing one of its top scorers, the Sabres have one of theirs back in the lineup. Maxim Afinogenov injured his shoulder when he was checked into the boards by Toronto defenseman Wade Belak, and had to miss the next six games. Afinogenov, who has 24 points, has two goals and three assists in three games since returning to action.
Sundin’s absence, meanwhile, has not slowed down teammate Darcy Tucker, who is among the league leaders with 13 goals. He scored for a second straight game Monday as Toronto beat the New York Islanders 4-2 to avoid what would have been a season high-tying third straight loss.
Tucker, who entered Tuesday’s action leading the NHL with 10 power-play goals, is on pace to easily surpass the career-high 28 goals he scored last season.
“I’ve been open and I’ve been finding a lot of open spots,” Tucker said.
Despite his team winning on Monday while outshooting the Islanders 33-21, Leafs coach Paul Maurice was unhappy with his club’s sluggish play late in the game.
“We didn’t play the way I wanted in the third period. Clearly, there was not enough profanity on the bench early in the game,” Maurice said. “I did a nice job of fixing that in the third.”
One thing Maurice had to enjoy seeing was Andrew Raycroft winning in his return after missing three games with a strained groin. Raycroft made 19 saves to win his sixth straight start.