TORONTO -- Greetings from Leaf Nation, where the fans are looking at the standings, crunching numbers and dreaming up best-case scenarios with the hopes they'll get to see playoff hockey. The conversations are very similar to the ones that took place in Buffalo two and three years ago.
It's going to take a lot for Toronto, and like Buffalo in those years, one misstep means it's over. That includes tonight's game. If the Leafs lose, they'll be nine points back with only 10 points available.
The Sabres had a morning skate today in Toronto, which (thankfully) is rare. We News writers just drive up and back for the games, and normally we come up around 4:30 p.m. With the morning skate, we come early. With work done at 1 p.m. and no hotel room to head back to, that's a lot of time to kill in TO. Spent some time walking to a shawarma place that had gotten good reviews.
Those reviewers obviously have never been to Ottawa. The food was OK, hardly memorable. I brought Kevin Sylvester and Scott Miner of the Sabres along for their inaugural shawarmas, and I do wish the ones in Ottawa had been their first ones. Oh well, nothing you can do about that. (Well, you can blog about as Kevin said he's going to be doing on Sabres.com. The guess here is he complains about the walk!)
The Sabres have just taken the ice for the warm-up, with no Mike Grier. The forward will miss the game with knee soreness, with Mark Mancari taking his place. More when the puck drops.
7:08 p.m.: Prior to the national anthems, the Leafs honored former Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur as the Community MVP. And the puck is dropped.
7:11 p.m.: All the folks talking about Ryan Miller's great play aren't talking now. He just allowed Dion Phaneuf to score on a slap shot from exactly the blue line with 1:34 gone. There was no tip, no one in his way. Miller just looked at his glove and squeezed it a couple of times. There was nothing in it. It's 1-0 Toronto.
7:13 p.m.: Miller gets his glove on the next shot, by Phil Kessel with 16:11 to go.
7:15 p.m.: With Grier out, the Sabres' lines are Thomas Vanek-Tim Connolly-Jason Pominville, Nathan Gerbe-Paul Gaustad-Brad Boyes, Tyler Ennis-Jochen Hecht-Drew Stafford and Rob Niedermayer-Cody McCormick-Mancari.
7:16 p.m.: Goalie James Reimer gloves his first tough shot, a wrister from the right circle by Mancari with 13:42 to go.
7:24 p.m.: The Sabres hit the second commercial still in their 1-0 hole. Toronto has a 6-5 shot edge.
7:32 p.m.: Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel just miss two scoring opportunities 30 seconds apart. Kessel fails to set up Bozak on a two-on-one, and Boyes' backchecking ties up Bozak when he tries to deposit Kessel's rebound with 6:05 to go.
7:39 p.m.: The Sabres have to be happy to head to the dressing room in a 2-1 hole. The Leafs made it 2-0 with 1:14 left, with Nazek Kadri beating Shaone Morrisonn for a puck in the corner. He headed to the front, where Darryl Boyce outworked a Buffalo defender to clean up the crease drive.
The Sabres got some life with just 11.6 seconds to go. Jochen Hecht drews two defenders and found Thomas Vanek alone in front. Reimer had no chance to stop the sniper's high shot.
The Leafs have an 11-9 shot edge.
7:56 p.m.: And they're off.
7:59 p.m.: Mike Weber heads off for delay of game with 17:52 to go.
8:05 p.m.: The Sabres kill a five-on-three but don't get a chance to celebrate as MacArthur scores on a rush shortly after it ends. It's 3-1 Toronto with 14:20 to go. More on what set up the five-on-three in a minute.
8:09 p.m.: Tim Connolly feeds Jason Pominville from behind the net for Pominville's 20th goal with 13:35 to go. It's 3-2 Toronto.
8:10 p.m.: And just like that, with 13:05 to go, it's 3-3. Carl Gunnarsson fumbled the puck right in front of his own net, and Niedermayer quickly slipped it past an unsuspecting Reimer.
8:13 p.m.: OK, so to catch up -- Tyler Myers took a holding penalty 51 seconds after Weber's delay of game. Phaneuf then speared Gaustad just below the belt (yeah, there), so Gaustad responded with a two-hander. The exact sequence played out once again. Thus, the five-on-three with some hostilities.
The Sabres killed it, but as they were exhaling, Kadri went around Connolly at the blue line and set up MacArthur. And now they're playing with 11:37 left.
8:22 p.m.: Vanek unsuccessfully tries feeding Connolly on a two-on-one with 7:25 to go.
8:25 p.m.: The Leafs are back in front. MacArthur's long breakout pass finds Kessel at the Buffalo blue line. He feeds a streaking Mikhail Grabovski in the middle of the zone, and Miller only gets a piece of the attempt. It's 4-3 Toronto with 5:13 to go.
8:37 p.m.: The Sabres exited the dressing room in a one-goal deficit, and they head back in with the same. It's 4-3 Toronto, with the Sabres holding a 23-21 shot edge after a 14-10 period.
8:55 p.m.: Somehow, two assists were just awarded to Niedermayer's goal. Anyway, game on.
9:02 p.m.: Gaustad mixes it up with Mike Komisarek with 15:29 to go, with each getting a roughing call to set up a four-on-four.
9:03 p.m.: It's a four-on-three after Stafford is forced to trip a driving MacArthur with 14:59 to go.
9:04 p.m.: Miller gets a quick look from athletic trainer Tim Macre with 14:48 left after taking a blast from Phaneuf off the collarbone area.
9:06 p.m.: Sabres again kill their penalties.
9:11 p.m.: Vanek goes for hooking wwith 11:47 left. Sabres entered game killing 42 straight Toronto power plays.
9:13 p.m.: Big save by Miller on Boyce from point-blank range with 9:05 left to keep it 4-3.
9:15 p.m.: The usual road game standing ovation for a military member with 8:28 to go. Boyce goes for hooking.
9:21 p.m.: Miller again comes up huge, stopping Joffrey Lupul with 6 minutes left.
9:27 p.m.: Mike Weber goes for goalie interference with 2:55 to go.
9:30 p.m.: The Leafs avoide virtual elimination with a 4-3 victory.