03/20 22:16 CDT Tavares, Matthews lead Maple Leafs to 4-2 win over Sabres
Tavares, Matthews lead Maple Leafs to 4-2 win over Sabres
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Hockey Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) --- John Tavares and Auston Matthews each had a goal and
assist, and the Toronto Maple Leafs won for just the second time in six games,
beating the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Wednesday night.
Mitchell Marner and Zach Hyman, into an empty net, also scored and the Maple
Leafs inched to within four points of the idle Boston Bruins in the race for
second place in the Atlantic Division standings. Garret Sparks stopped 22 shots
for Toronto, which was playing on consecutive nights after a 3-0 loss at
Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander scored for Buffalo, which dropped to
1-7-1 in its past nine. Coming off a 4-3 shootout win over St. Louis on Sunday,
the Sabres have gone 41 games since winning consecutive outings. It's a stretch
dating to Dec. 11-13, during which Buffalo dropped to 12-24-5.
The lack of consistency has raised questions regarding Sabres coach Phil
Housley's job security just two seasons into his tenure.
Last year, Buffalo became the NHL's first team to finish 31st following the
addition of expansion Vegas Golden Knights. This year, the Sabres have
unraveled over the past four months and are in jeopardy of becoming the
league's second team to miss the playoffs in a season in which they won 10
Toronto overcame a 1-0 first-period deficit by scoring three consecutive goals,
including Tavares and Marner scoring 1:50 apart, spanning the second
Tavares scored the go-ahead goal with 1:28 left in the second period by
converting a puck that pingponged into the crease. William Nylander's shot from
the right circle struck the crossbar, then the post, and bounced to the left of
the net, where it struck Buffalo captain Jack Eichel's knee and ricocheted back
into the crease, where Tavares tapped it in.
Tavares then set up Marner's goal 22 seconds into the third period with a
no-look backhand pass from the left boards. Marner was untouched in driving to
the slot, where he snapped a shot under goalie Carter Hutton's blocker.
Hutton was solid by making 42 saves in a game Toronto outshot Buffalo 46-24.
Buffalo's Nylander --- younger brother of Toronto's Alexander Nylander --- cut
Toronto's lead to 3-2 with 14:23 left when he one-timed in Vladimir Sobotka's
centering pass into the slot.
Sparks was coming off a 38-save performance in a 6-2 loss at Ottawa on
Saturday, and suggested the Leafs needed to show more emotion.
Coach Mike Babcock, on Wednesday, agreed with the notion that Sparks' comments
might place more pressure on the backup goalie.
As for his expectations, Babcock said he wanted Sparks to focus on his own game.
"Any time you're looking for any other help in life, it usually doesn't go your
way," Babcock said. "So just own what you do and play as hard as you can
tonight. We're going to play hard for Sparky, and he's going to play well."
The Leafs thoroughly dominated the Sabres to open the game, but wound up
Buffalo was being outshot 17-2 through the first 11 minutes and 18-5 before
Mittelstadt opened the scoring with a power-play goal at the 15:04 mark.
Rasmus Dahlin's assist on Mittelstadt's goal upped the rookie's total to 38
points and moved him ahead of Bobby Orr for second-most by an NHL defenseman
before his 19th birthday. The only player ahead of him is Housley, who had 57
points as an 18-year-old with Buffalo in 1982-83.
NOTES: Toronto swept the four-game season series over Buffalo and improved to
22-11-4 on the road --- one win shy of matching the franchise record set in
2003-04. ... The Sabres assigned prospect forward Matej Pekar to AHL Rochester
after the 19-year-old completed his season with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey
League. It's unclear when Pekar will play, as the 2018 fourth-round draft pick
has been out since breaking his collarbone in January. ... With San Jose
clinching a playoff spot, the Sabres officially acquired the Sharks'
first-round pick in this year's draft. The Sharks had the option of retaining
the pick --- acquired in a trade for Evander Kane --- if they missed the
playoffs this year and send Buffalo their 2020 first-round selection.
Maple Leafs: Host New York Rangers on Saturday.
Sabres: Open three-game road trip at Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
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