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Sabres 7, Maple Leafs 4
Sabres take down Leafs in Thanksgiving Eve thriller

BUFFALO (LGS) —   Whenever the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs meet up, it usually makes for a great hockey game, and Wednesday night was no different. The Leafs stormed out of the gate before Buffalo roared back. In the end, it was the Sabres – led by Daniel Briere up front and Ryan Miller in the net – who would skate away with a 7-4 victory.

Toronto jumped all over the Sabres early on as Buffalo went down two men to penalties not once but twice during the opening three minutes of the game. The Leafs capitalized on both opportunities and had a 2-0 lead just 3:44 into the game with the power-play goals coming from Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood.

The Sabres and their fans, who were fighting off a large and boisterous contingent of Leaf supporters, weren’t going to go down so easily.

"There was a lot of frustration down 2-0," said Sabres’ co-captain Briere. "Frustration at ourselves for taking penalties like that, but at the same time we believed we could come back."

It would take Buffalo a power play to get on the board when Ales Kotalik threw the puck toward the Toronto net in hopes of a Maple Leafs player touching the puck. The Leafs were already shorthanded, and they had another delayed call coming against them. Instead of his original plan, Kotalik’s pass through the crowd slid through various Toronto players and hit the right post, catching goaltender Andrew Raycroft off guard. Maxim Afinogenov was right there to pounce on the loose puck for his 11th of the season.

The Sabres would tie the game shortly after the ensuing Leafs’ penalty expired when Jiri Novotny was left wide open in the lower slot. Thomas Vanek found Novotny in front with the puck, and the Czech winger had enough time to settle the pass and accurately place the shot past Raycroft’s left glove.

Buffalo would take the lead 1:54 into the second period when Thomas Vanek’s no-look, behind-the-back pass found Daniel Briere sitting pretty just to the left of the Toronto net. The Sabres’ co-captain easily one-timed the pass into the net for Buffalo’s first lead of the game.

Just over a minute later, Briere sent Brian Campbell streaking toward the Toronto net. Campbell’s original shot was blocked by the stick of a Toronto defenseman, but the puck still found its way back to Campbell, who placed the puck behind Raycroft for a 4-2 Buffalo lead.

With all the momentum in the Sabres' favor, newly recalled Michael Ryan committed a play he definitely didn't want to make in his first NHL game. Just a second after Miller made a huge save on a Jeff O’Neill shot, Ryan accidentally cleared the puck into the Buffalo net.

All Miller could do is forgive his former Rochester roommate and best friend and tell him that the team would find a way to win.

Despite Toronto knotting the score up at four a piece 7:19 into the third period, the Sabres would skate on to victory when Briere scored his second of the night at 14:41. Raycroft made a bad judgment behind the Toronto net and shot the puck along the boards to Jason Pominville. Pommer settled the puck down and cleared it in front to Daniel Paille, who nicely fed Briere.

With Toronto on a power play late in the game, the Sabres would add shorthanded, empty-net goals by Pominville and Chris Drury to seal the deal. Buffalo's seven goals gave them 101 on the season, making them the first team to break the century mark.

Buffalo's 37 points before Thanksgiving Day is the fourth-best start in NHL history. The only teams to have started better were the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings, 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers and the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. Each of those three teams had 39 points before Turkey Day, and each of those teams went on to win the Stanley Cup.

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POSTGAME POWER PLAY
a two-minute read on the good old hockey game...

Entertainment Value
mild | medium | hot | SUICIDAL
Consecutive 5-on-3's to start the game, phantom calls, own goals, two-goal comebacks from each team, chants of Let's Go Leafs Go Buffalo, unbelievable Ryan Miller saves and of course another Buffalo Sabres victory. This game had it all!

Scary Good
The hometown advantage! Despite having thousands of Go Leafs Go-screaming fans, the Sabres' faithful were on top of their game. When Buffalo fell behind 2-0 early in this affair, you would have never known it from the reaction of the hometown fans. Simply put, the "seventh man" wouldn't let the Sabres lose. Not against the Maple Leafs and their fans.

Just Frightening
Less than four minutes into the game, the Sabres were being sent to the penalty box like they were handing out free Playstation 3's in there. It's 2-0 Toronto before most HSBC spectators have a chance to warm up their seats.

Superhero
Ryan Miller. You'll usually never see Miller make ridiculous saves because he's always in the right position. When he's on his game, he's almost always effectively boring. However that wasn't the case Wednesday night. Miller might have let in four goals, but he made a handful of saves, including a few late in the game, that were utterly spectacular.

Slug
Jaroslav Spacek. It seems each night over the past few weeks a different Sabres defenseman has a game they wish to forget about as soon as it's over. Against the Leafs, it was Spacek. I counted about four costly defensive-zone turnovers and a few other close calls. He was a +2 tonight, somehow, but he can thank Ryan Miller for saving his bacon many times. To make matters worse, Spacek took a hard slapshot right to the shin, hobbling the Czech defenseman for a few minutes.

PPP Three Stars
1. Ryan Miller (32 saves). It wasn't so much about the GAA or S% as it is was about the timing of some of his saves.
2. Darcy Tucker (2 goals). What a Mother Tucker! Scoring two goals against the Sabres can't help his "fond" image in Buffalo.
3. Daniel Briere (2 goals, 1 assist). Honestly, not one of his best nights, but the great ones can play bad and still put up three points.
(Official stars at right)

Fourth Star
Brian Campbell. It's starting to get scary how good Soupy is becoming. Offensively he contributed a goal and an assist, but his defensive-zone play along with his poise with the puck were on another level when compared to the rest of his team. He's the top vote-getter so far in All-Star balloting for Eastern Conference defensemen and for good reason he's playing like he is the best defenseman in the East. He was a +3.

Defining Moment
Shortly after scoring its first goal, Buffalo is on the attack. Paul Gaustad dumps the puck in from the neutral zone, dances around Darcy Tucker and hunts down the loose puck behind the Toronto net. Most players would pull up with a defenseman on their tail, but Gaustad beats Tomas Kaberle to the puck so quickly he has time to cycle out enough to free up Thomas Vanek behind the net, who finds Jiri Novotny all alone in front. Before you know it, it's a tied hockey game.

Turning Point
The Sabres were cruising along in the second period when the unthinkable happened. Rookie Michael Ryan, playing in his first NHL game, scores his first goal well, in a manner of speaking. Ryan Miller makes a big stop on a Jeff O'Neill screen shot, but Ryan accidentally clears the puck right into the Buffalo net. The goal puts Toronto and their fans right back into the game.

On the Hot Seat
Numminen-Kalinin defensive pairing. These two played so well together early in the season, but lately they look beat. Against the Leafs they got beat, three separate times actually. Teppo and Dmitri were out for all goals scored against the Sabres that didn't come off a Michael Ryan stick. Granted two of those three goals were 5-on-3, but these two are capable of playing better. Verdict: The jury is still out, but that four-day break starting after this Sunday can only help swing the case in their favor.

The Burning Question
Is it really worth selling your tickets to the devil for the few Benjamins you get? That money is dirty.

Crunching the Numbers

25 - Seconds of ice time for Michael Funk

1 - Assist that he had in those 25 seconds

101 - Career points Brian Campbell has after this game

101 - Goals on the season for the Sabres, leading the NHL

29:19 - Minutes of ice time for Campbell, who continues to be a workhorse

4 - Assists for Daniel Paille since being recalled on Monday

2 - Empty-net, shorthanded goals to seal the deal

Gum-Flapping
"We had to battle some adversity early. They had to battle adversity in the second. It turned out to be a pretty damn good game."
—Sabres' head coach Lindy Ruff

In the Buffalo Wings
Go Leafs Go turns into Go Habs Go as the Canadiens invade HSBC Arena Friday night.

By Paul Szeglowski, LGS Site Manager
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