BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Sabres captain Jack Eichel has become familiar with “Go, Leafs Go”-chanting Maple Leafs fans taking over Buffalo’s home rink.
Sending them back across the border unhappy?
“I enjoy it,” Eichel said.
Buffalo scored three times in a 91-second span in the third period Sunday, stunning the visitors into silence en route to a 5-2 victory.
Eichel, with his team-leading 33rd of the season, started the surge by scoring a power-play goal at the 6:06 mark. Kyle Okposo followed 49 seconds later by beating Rasmus Sandin for a loose puck and scoring on breakaway. And Jimmy Vesey capped the run by tapping in Rasmus Ristolainen’s pass following Zach Hyman’s turnover deep in the Toronto end.
“We were desperate,” said Eichel of a team that has won three straight following a 1-5-1 skid during which Buffalo was drawing boos from its own fans. “We’re starting to get the confidence going again in the room. And I think that’s everything.”
Eichel didn’t go into much detail on his feelings about Toronto fans taking over Buffalo’s arena.
“I don’t know. You guys can make your own assumptions on it,” he said.
Johan Larsson had a goal and assist and Conor Sheary also scored, while Carter Hutton stopped 20 shots to win his fourth straight start.
Hyman scored for Toronto, as did Egor Korshkov in his NHL debut after being called up earlier in the day. Frederik Anderson finished with 31 saves in losing his second start since missing four games with a neck injury.
Toronto dropped to 7-7-1 since enjoying a 9-0-1 run.
Concerns are beginning to creep in for the Maple Leafs, which can’t just be explained on a team playing its third game in four nights, and coming off a 4-2 win at Ottawa on Saturday.
Coach Sheldon Keefe referred to the game against Buffalo as yet another in what’s become a long line of inconsistent outings.
“This is the worst we’ve been for a really a time. We haven’t been able to get the results we’re capable of getting,” Keefe said. “It’s certainly not a one-off, because we haven’t really put our game together for quite some time. But this one was different today because for most of the game, we didn’t feel like we were in the building.”
Toronto was thoroughly dominated through the first two periods in being out-shot 28-12 and trailing 2-1.
The Maple Leafs finally showed signs of life to open the third period, with Hyman tying the game by deflecting in Jake Muzzin’s point shot 2:11 into the period. Toronto, however, was unable to sustain the momentum and then unraveled once Eichel scored 54 seconds after Muzzin was penalized for tripping.
“We just haven’t been able to put a full 60 (minutes) together,” forward John Tavares said. “Considering the sense of urgency we need to have and the points, how crucial they are, it’s disappointing especially once we gave ourselves and opportunity in the third to win it, but not find a way to raise our game.”
With 70 points, Toronto began the day in third in the Atlantic Division, and just four points ahead of Florida.
The win allowed Buffalo to move into a tie with Montreal for fifth in the division with 62 points.
Coach Ralph Krueger noted the resolve his players showed in not panicking after squandering a 2-0 lead, saying it’s a sign of the team maturing. After coming out of the All-Star break losing five of six home games, the Sabres have responded with three straight wins.
“There was a desperation today that we’ve been building something here this week at home,” Krueger said. “What happens on our bench right now is there’s a maturing going on within the game.”
There was such a large contingent of Leafs fans in the building that the loudest cheer before the game came when Toronto’s Auston Matthews was announced as a starter. And the familiar “Go, Leafs, Go!” chants began 20 seconds into the game.
Okposo, whose goal was his 500th career poiint, has seen and heard this all before.
“Obviously, they bring the coalition, they bring their Leafs Nation,” Okposo said, before breaking into a smile. “So it’s always fun to get a win here in front of our home crowd.”
NOTES: Sabres LW Marcus Johansson returned after missing one game with an upper body injury. … Aside from Korshkov, Toronto also recalled forward Mason Marchment from AHL Toronto. … Maple Leafs LW Andreas Johnsson, who will miss between eight and 10 weeks with a knee injury, was placed on injured reserve
Maple Leafs: Play Penguins twice in three days, starting with game at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Sabres: At Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
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