It was supposed to be the “Clash of the Titanics”, as cleverly headlined by the Toronto Sun.
Indeed the billing of the worst team in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres, visiting the league’s fifth-worst squad, the Leafs, detracted fans away from the Air Canada Centre in droves on Wednesday night.
And yet those who chose to attend – namely a smattering of the announced crowd of 18,844 – managed to witness some excitement, culminating in a 4-3 shootout win by the home team.
Tyler Bozak was the key player in sparking the Leafs to the win (or antagonizing Tank Nation, depending on your perspective. But those guys shouldn’t be disappointed because Connor McDavid was held pointless on this night, so he must be overrated – right?)
Bozak deflected a Phil Kessel shot on a Leafs power play late in the third period to tie the game. Then, after overtime prolonged the stalemate, Bozak sniped the only goal on either side in the shootout, clinching just Toronto’s eighth win in the past 37 games.
“it’s nice to get a win before our Canadian road trip,” Bozak said as the team prepares to visit Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton for their next three games. “Hopefully we can carry this on and get a few wins on the trip.”
With Nazem Kadri’s team suspension extended by two games, the Leafs were once again short of a top-six forward. The game started inauspiciously for Toronto as they gave up the opening goal in what can only be descirbed as ‘typical Leaf’ fashion.
On the play, Dion Phaneuf turned the puck over at the blue line, eventually resulting in a Sabres 2-on-1. After Jake Gardiner failed to stop the cross-ice pass, sprawling on the surface to no avail, Johan Larsson converted a Tyler Ennis pass to get the Sabres on the board.
The Leafs youngsters tied the affair after defenceman Andrew MacWilliam – playing in his first NHL game – found Joakin Lindstrom on the left wing. Lindstrom in turn spotted Brandon Kozun in the slot, who promptly wired a shot past Buffalo goalie Anders Lindback.
Just 21 seconds later, Leo Komarov tipped a pass from David Booth right on the doorstep to put his team ahead. But the lead was short-lived as the Sabres capitalized on a turnover by Joffrey Lupul just a minute-and-a-half later. Ennis was the eventual beneficiary, knotting the score a two apiece.
The Sabres went ahead on a second period marker by Matt Moulson, finishing a tic-tac-toe play with Larsson and Ennis. Once again, lackadaiscal defensive coverage was the Leafs’ undoing.
But Jonathan Bernier was perfect in net the rest of the way. Bernier made a total of 30 saves, and stifled each of the three Sabres shooters: Moulson, Ennis, and Brian Gionta, who all tried to go for a backhand deke to Bernier’s glove side without success.
“That was a good third period effort,” Bernier said. “I thought we battled hard to come back in the game and found a way to win.”
MacWilliam, sporting an army sweater after being named the team’s player of the game, savoured his Leafs debut. “It’s a special feeling,” he said. “You dream about this your whole career. As a kid, it’s something that you think about a lot. It was great to get that experience.”
(Bozak photo credit: TipOfTheTower.com)
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