Frederik Andersen was put to the test and the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender did enough to hold his team to victory.
“He gave us a chance to win, especially in the third period, where we had to defend” Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares said. “He made some big saves, even at the end of the second (period), too. That’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the league.”
Tavares scored his 10th goal of the season at 1:45 of overtime and picked up his 400th NHL assist while Andersen made 29 saves as the Maple Leafs defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
Andersen started in goal in the back half of a home-and-home series, breaking the trend from recently fired head coach Mike Babcock of starting Andersen in the first game of the sequence.
“It was a little different because we didn’t have a skate yesterday because of the early game,” Andersen said of the change. “I was able to skate a little this morning and obviously, we had more of a relaxed morning.”
The change is one of many that newly-installed Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe has made since taking over the reins. The 39-year-old from nearby Brampton made his home-coaching debut after going 3-1-0 in his first four NHL games.
“We had some good moments, but (our effort level) was not where we want it to be or where we wanted it to be,” Keefe said of his team’s play. “We have to give some credit to Buffalo, they really did a good job in both games against us and made it a little harder on us.”
William Nylander recorded the other goal for the Maple Leafs (13-11-4), while Rasmus Ristolainen scored Buffalo’s lone goal (12-10-5).
Carter Hutton made 41 saves in defeat and fell to 0-5-3 in his last eight games.
The Maple Leafs outshot the Sabres 11-8 in the opening period. The best scoring chance for either team in the frame came when Sabres forward Sam Reinhart’s shot from the circle hit the post at 7:31.
The Maple Leafs opened the scoring in the second period.
Nylander went to the net after receiving a pass from Auston Matthews. He deked Hutton and shot the puck under his shoulder and into the net for the power-play goal at 5:30. John Tavares picked up his 400th career assist on the Nylander goal.
“It was a little lucky and it deflected between his arm and in,” Nylander said of his goal. “It was nice to get one on the power play, that’s for sure.”
The Sabres had several chances to score in the frame. Andersen made a glove save off Connor Sheary at 11:50. The play was reviewed as part of Andersen’s glove appeared to be over the line, but the review was inconclusive.
“That was amazing, it kind of saved me because that was my guy,” Nylander said of Andersen’s save on Sheary. “It was a big save for him.”
Later in the period, Jeff Skinner had a chance from the slot while Andersen lost control of his stick, but Andersen made the save at 18:31. Victor Olofsson’s shot from the circle hit the post at 19:09.
The Maple Leafs outshot the Sabres 16-11 in the second period.
Buffalo found the equalizer in the third. Rasmus Ristolainen scored his second goal after he saw a clear path to the net while trying to find a player open. He cut across the net and beat Andersen blocker side at 6:58.
“I thought the guys put that away really well and really deserved more than a point here when I look at the third period,” Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said. “So really proud of the effort of the guys just digging it really deep and extremely disappointed with the final result.
The Sabres went 0 for 2 on the power play. They now have just one goal with the man advantage in their last 37 opportunities.
Tavares scored the winning goal from long range beating Hutton at 1:45 of overtime.
“My first shot, I think I surprised him,” Tavares said of the final play of the game. “Then when I got a little bit of separation again, I got a little bit of a screen and tested him again. I was at the end of my shift, so I wanted to be sure with it and I was able to get some good wood on it and time it right.”