The Sabres and Leafs begin rivalry 2018

March 5, 2018

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - It is just unbelievable to me that it took until March 5 for the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs to play for the first time this season.

The two teams will have four games against each other, with three coming in March.

In the beginning of the season I was thinking these games would mean something, but I think we were all fooled.

Buffalo doesn’t have Jack Eichel while Toronto is missing Auston Matthews. I bet NBC Sports Network is thrilled about that.

As usual the stands were littered with Leaf jerseys. I would say probably more than normal since many Sabres fans have stopped showing up.

During the introductions, I could actually hear the Leaf fans booing the Sabres. After the play started, a thunderous “Go Leafs Go” rang out that couldn’t be drowned out by the Sabres fans.

Things got off to a great start as the Sabres had a 2-0 lead by the 3:43 mark. Buffalo took advantage of a bad Leaf penalty killing crew. Rasmus Ristolainen saw Sam Reinhart screening Freddie Andersen in front and fired it where Reinhart could tip it. He did and they had the quick lead.

Just 1:50 later, Jason Pominville tipped in a Ristolainen shot for his second goal in three games. Before that he had three goals in 51 games.

Toronto definitely used its speed and had the better of the play in the first period, but Chad Johnson was good until just before the end.

Johnson stopped Patrick Marleau who had split the defense and walked in alone. He also had to stop Mitch Marner directly in front.

Casey Nelson and Brendan Guhle played most of the first 40 minutes in their own end. Nelson came out from behind the net and fanned on his pass which went to Zach Hyman in the crease. Johnson was big there.   

Leo Komarov scored with just eight second left in the period. The Sabres had great coverage on the penalty kill and for some unknown reason, Benoit Pouliot let Komarov go in front and the Leaf fans were loud with their approval. The puck came out to Komarov because Johnson got handcuffed on the original shot by Will Nylander.

Early in the second, Ristolainen tried to check Nazem Kadri hard behind the net. Kadri came out front a cross checked Ristolainen hard to the back. The gloves came off and both players landed one good punch before they hugged.

The Leafs tied it up on a great give and go between Komarov and Matt Martin. The goal doesn’t happen if Nick Baptiste does a better job of tying up Komarov.

The Leafs were still dominating and then Buffalo started to again get pucks and bodies to the net.

Reinhart took an off-angle shot that went in off Zemgus Girgensons skate who was going to the net.

That made three goals by just doing the simple things that Phil Housley has been begging them to do, pucks and bodies to the net.

The fourth goal was a lucky bounce off the referee right to an open Ryan O’Reilly in front. Buffalo got better as the second period went on, but you make your own breaks and Buffalo has done just that in this game.

The Sabres almost had five when Nate Beaulieu hit the post with a wide open net looking at him.

Toronto came after Buffalo with its speed in the third period. The Leafs took off on a 2-on-1 only to have Nelson make a great play to break it up.

A few minutes later, James van Riemsdyk came in alone and missed the net. Hyman was allowed to walk out in front, but Johnson stopped him.

The Sabres used the same recipe again and they withstood a Toronto push to make it 5-2. Jordan Nolan did great work in the to set Pominville up for a hard one-timer. Andersen couldn't handle the shot and Johan Larsson scored because he went hard to the net and out worked Jake Gardiner.

The Leafs got a power play goal with Andersen pulled late, but the Sabres are now 6-2 against the top three teams in the division, Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto. Johnson has been a big part of that record as he made 38 saves in this one, many of which were wide open looks.

The Sabres are now 70-27-8 alltime at home against Toronto. They're 9-2 in their last 11 and 19-3-1 in their last 23 on this side of the border.

You have to like the way the Sabres are playing lately, but you also have to remember, they're so far back, the pressure is off.