Kadri scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period to lead the Maple Leafs to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
“He made plays,” Wilson said. “He was good along the wall in our zone and that’s what he has to do. He sees the ice and skates, he’s got confidence and distributes the puck really well.”
Recalled from Toronto of the AHL the previous day after a 22-game stay in the minors, Kadri got his first goal of the season when he scored off Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller’s glove at 5:52 of the third.
Kadri, a first-round draft pick in 2009, also got some nice words from Wilson after his fourth goal in 34 career NHL games.
“He’s been pretty supportive and kind of giving me the encouragement to play with the puck,” Kadri said. “I think he knows that I’ve learned how to recognize danger and when to try and make a play and when not to. After I scored that goal, he just came up to me and he told me `Don’t change a thing. You’re playing great.”’
Jason Pominville and Derek Roy scored for the Sabres. Pominville gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season on the power play at 11:49 of the second. After Steckel and Kessel put the Maple Leafs ahead later in the period, Roy tied the score at 1:29 of the third.
Toronto held Buffalo to just one goal on six power-play chances, including one late in which the Sabres barely mustered a shot as the clock ticked down.
“When it really mattered in the last five or 10 minutes of the game, everyone really dug in and they pretty much had nothing,” said Reimer, who has made 80 saves in his last two starts. “That’s the kind of group we have. We’ve got a team that will do anything to win and has a lot of pride.”
The victory came at the perfect time for the Leafs, who had lost seven of nine coming in and visits the New York Islanders on Friday in their last game before the Christmas break.
“We’ve got to take the good out of tonight and move forward and try to finish on a good note before the break,” Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said.
Buffalo is also reeling as it heads into the break. The banged-up team can use the time off as leading scorer Tomas Vanek left in the third period, making it seven regulars out of the lineup.
“Obviously the couple days rest here is going to be nice to spend time with our families and maybe not think about hockey—think about other things,” Pominville said. “But we wanted to end this on a pretty good note. The effort was there, the results weren’t and if we keep putting efforts on like this and limit those little brain farts a little bit, we’re going to get on a roll here.”
The first period belonged to Miller, who had his play questioned by Sabres owner Terry Pegula following a blowout loss in Pittsburgh last weekend.
With the Leafs off to a fast start, Miller stopped Kessel at the side of the goal before getting his shoulder on Matt Frattin’s one-timer. Toronto was unable to score on any of its 12 first-period shots.
The momentum swung early in the second as Toronto took four straight penalties, including a delay of game call to Tyler Bozak that left the team two men short for 67 seconds. Reimer overcame a barrage of shots, only allowing a goal to Pominville when the Sabres’ captain saw his shot deflect off in Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn.
The Leafs responded with a goal from their little-used fourth line. Playing just their second shift of the period, Steckel dribbled a shot past Miller from the top of the crease at 15:52.
That brought the sellout crowd to life, with fans derisively chanting: “Millller! Millller!” when Kessel made it 2-1 just over a minute later. The flashy winger scored his 20th of the season after taking a nice pass from linemate Joffrey Lupul.
The lead was short-lived as Roy tied it early in the third period. He grabbed the puck on a turnover at the Leafs blue-line and beat Reimer to the glove side.
NOTES: Fans booed an in-game promo featuring Canadian pop phenom Justin Bieber, who skated with the Leafs on Wednesday. … Kessel has 20 or more goals in four straight seasons. … Patrick Kaleta returned to Buffalo’s lineup after missing 12 of the last 13 games with a groin injury. … Toronto is 11-0-0 when leading after two periods.