Jack Eichel scored twice and set up another goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ 5-2 win that slowed the youth-laden Toronto Maple Leafs’ late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth.
Ryan O’Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov each had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane also scored in a game the Sabres took control of by scoring three straight times in the second period. Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots, and the Sabres continued their home dominance over their cross-border rivals by improving to 18-2-1 against Toronto in their last 21 games at Buffalo.
The Maple Leafs’ hold on third-place in the Atlantic Division dwindled in having a three-game winning streak end and losing in regulation for just the second time in their past 10 (7-2-1). With 85 points, Toronto has a one-point edge over Boston after the Bruins beat the New York Islanders.
Auston Matthews scored his 34th to tie Toronto’s single-season rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86. Matthews matched the mark in the same arena the Maple Leafs selected the player from Scottsdale, Arizona, with the No. 1 pick in the draft last June.
Connor Brown also scored for Toronto.
Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen allowed two goals on 16 shots in the opening period and did not return for the second after sustaining an upper-body injury. He appeared to be hurt during a collision with Buffalo forward William Carrier.
Curtis McElhinney took over and promptly gave up two power-play goals on the first eight shots he faced.
After Matthews scored 2:22 into the period to tie it at two by converting a rebound off Matt Hunwick’s point shot, Eichel scored 26 seconds later. He was set up in the left circle by Kulikov and snapped a shot in over McElhinney’s right shoulder.
Kulikov then put Buffalo up 4-2 four minutes later by firing a 30-footer through a crowd and beating McElhinney inside the left post.
Eichel capped the second-period run by scoring on a snapshot from the right circle with 6:48 left.
McElhinney allowed three goals on 22 in the loss. The Leafs avoided a scare five minutes into the third period when McElhinney was upended by Sabres forward Marcus Foligno, who lost his balance and slid into the net.
McElhinney got up immediately. With Andersen not on the bench, it was unclear who would have had to play in net if Toronto required a third goalie.
As in the past, there was a very large “Go, Leafs, Go!” chanting Maple Leafs contingent which made the trip across the Niagara River. And this group was additionally charged up and in a celebratory mood given Toronto’s surge that has put the team in a position to clinch just its second playoff berth in 12 seasons.
During the pregame skate, several fans unfurled a large banner reading “MITCH!!!” in honour of Maple Leafs rookie Mitchell Marner behind the Sabres bench.
The Maple Leafs-fan-generated buzz began to subside during a first period that featured a flurry of goals scored over a short stretch.
After O’Reilly opened the scoring 7:05 in by redirecting Tyler Ennis’ pass through the crease and in off Andersen’s skate, the teams traded goals in a 15-second span some 2 1/2 minutes later.
Brown was left alone in front to tie it by converting a rebound, after Lehner stopped Leo Komarov’s initial shot on the rush.
The large number of Maple Leafs fans in the stands were still celebrating when Kane scored the go-ahead goal. Zach Bogosian’s shot from the right point was stopped by Andersen, but he couldn’t control the rebound. The puck dribbled into the slot, where Kane outmuscled defender Alexey Marchenko, and wrapped a shot inside the left post.
It was Kane’s 26th goal of the season, all of which have come in his past 51 games.
NOTES: Sabres RW Kyle Okposo had two assists in returning after missing 10 games with a rib injury, while Kulikov played his 500th game in returning after missing nine with an upper-body injury. ... Maple Leafs C William Nylander assisted on Matthews’ goal to extend his rookie franchise-record streak to 11 games in which he has four goals and nine assists. ... Buffalo recalled D Brady Austin from AHL Rochester, and demoted RW Hudson Fasching.
Maple Leafs: Host Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
Sabres: Host Florida Panthers on Monday.Report Typo/Error