TORONTO (AP)—Coach Lindy Ruff was in no mood to celebrate his Sabres clinching their first playoff berth in five years.
Maxim Afinogenov scored the only goal of the shootout in a 3-2 victory over Toronto on Monday night. The Sabres rebounded from an embarrassing loss, and when Atlanta lost to Ottawa, the Sabres had their playoff berth.
But all Ruff talked about after the game was a third-period hit Tucker put on Hecht, who is now sidelined for several week with a left knee injury.
“We totally outworked them. It’s unfortunate we have to be done in by a cheap shot at the end of the game by Tucker,” Ruff said. “It was a knee on a knee hit. He goes after his head. He dives after; he’s known as a diver. He couldn’t take the hit that we gave him, so he knocks our guy out of the lineup for probably weeks. That’s a joke.
“I want him suspended. I want him fined. I’ll come to the hearing. I haven’t called the league once. I’ll call them 10 times tomorrow.”
Sabres winger Mike Grier flattened Tucker with a clean but thunderous check just inside the Toronto zone midway through the third period. Tucker then went after Hecht, who received a high-sticking penalty. Tucker wasn’t penalized.
Hecht will be re-examined Tuesday. He has 18 goals and 24 assists.
“If you go knee on knee and take a shot at the guy’s head at the same time, you don’t deserve to be in the game,” Ruff added. “We’re going to the playoffs and you take out one of our best players because you couldn’t take a hit. That’s an absolute joke.”
Ruff got louder as he spoke, yelling down the hallway toward Toronto’s locker room.
“Suspend him. Get out the game. I’ve had enough of that. It’s a joke!” Ruff said before storming off.
Tucker wasn’t available for comment.
Afinogenov scored on Buffalo’s first attempt of the shootout. He deked goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin before putting the puck past him.
Afinogenov also scored in regulation and had an assist for the Sabres, who had won just one of their previous nine games.
Buffalo’s Martin Biron had a strong game in goal, finishing with 31 saves. He robbed John Pohl of a goal in the second period with a sprawling glove save.
“It was a relief to get that one point and clinch a playoff spot,” Biron said. “Even though this last stretch was a bad one, the biggest stretch of the year is coming up in three weeks. That’s really important.
“The way it had been over the past few years we were down to the wire, looking at the scoreboard to see if we had a chance to make the playoffs. Now it was about us.”
Derek Roy also scored for the Sabres, who lost 7-0 to Toronto on Saturday night. Despite the Sabres playing four games in six nights, Ruff put his club through an intense 90-minute practice on Sunday—one of its longest since training camp.
It worked as Roy scored just 4:02 into the first period and Buffalo outshot Toronto 13-7 in the period.
Pohl and Matt Stajan scored in regulation for the Maple Leafs, who fell eight points behind eighth-place Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot. Toronto could miss the postseason for the first time since 1997-98.
“We still got to keep plugging away until we’re mathematically eliminated,” Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. “We know we need them to fall down a little bit, clearly, because we’ll run out of time here.”
Aubin had another strong game, but took his first loss in four starts. He made 34 saves and stopped Buffalo’s Daniel Briere point blank in overtime. Briere returned from a two-game suspension and assisted on Afinogenov’s goal.
After Ales Kotalik’s shot ricocheted off the backboards to the side of the net, Roy batted it out of the air and put it past Aubin.
Afinogenov scored on a power play after a rebound bounced to him in front of the net. He let loose a hard slap shot, giving Buffalo a 2-0 lead midway in the second period. He pumped his fist as celebrated his 20th goal of the season.
Toronto captain Mats Sundin took the puck from behind the net and made a backhanded centering pass to Pohl, whose one-timer cut it to 2-1 at 11:57 of the second.
Stajan tied it at 2 with 7:20 to go in the third by slipping a rebound past Biron after a shot by Jeff O’Neill.
Tucker hasn’t scored in 16 games since trying a career high with his 24th on Feb 28. … Charlie Villanueva of the NBA Raptors was in the crowd and asked it for noise in the second period.