It was the fourth and final game of the season at the First Niagara Center between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs. With only a handful of games left, both squads were far from the playoff picture and looking forward to the offseason and draft. Chad Johnson started in net for the Sabres for his seventh straight start, and Garret Sparks received the call for Toronto.
Buffalo is officially without Robin Lehner and Evander Kane for the remainder of the season, as Lehner is now recovering for ankle surgery, and Kane out with an upper-body injury. Nazem Kadri was looking to continue his hot streak, after recording 7 points (5G, 2A) in his last 4 games.
At the 7:09 mark of the first, Johan Larsson broke the deadlock with a quick snapshot from thirty feet out that whizzed by the head of Garret Sparks. Making it his 8th goal of the season, Larsson continues his strong play for the second half of the season. Marcus Foligno and Captain Brian Gionta earned the assists for the goal.
Shortly after, the Sabres found themselves on the powerplay, as Andrew Campbell earned 2 minutes for slashing. Buffalo managed a few opportunities, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
Buffalo controlled the play in the first period for the first half of the period, and it showed. As Toronto finally recorded their first shot on goal at the 11:56 mark, play began to balance itself out and the puck went back and forth for the next few minutes. Hudson Fasching continued to show his prowess with plenty of strong play in the offensive zone, holding the puck down low and along the boards.
With 1:48 left in the period Frank Corrado earned 2 minutes in the penalty box for dumping Hudson Faschiing in front of the Toronto net. With 18 seconds left, Cal O’Reilly slung a pass out to Jack Eichel, who was waiting along the left-hand wall. Eichel returned the pass to O’Reilly who coasted into the slot and fired the puck past Sparks for a 2-0 lead. That lead carried into the first intermission as well as shots on goal, in which Buffalo led 16-5.
Cal O’Reilly was having a great night. Off a faceoff in the Buffalo end, the puck found it’s way to the to the Toronto zone. O’Reilly was the first to get to the puck, and made no mistake. As he approached the puck at the top of the faceoff circle, he put all his body through a slapshot that flew by the glove of Garret Sparks for his second goal of the night. 3-0 Swords.
At the 7:31, TJ Brennan interfered on Marcus Foligno in the defensive zone for Toronto, and earned 2 minutes in the box. Chad Johnson was up to the task shortly after the start of the Buffalo powerplay, as Michael Grabner got the puck out of the zone and flew in on a breakaway. Grabner went between the legs, but Johnson shut the door. The Sabres weren’t able to mesh with the man-advantage, leading to a successful kill by the Maple Leafs.
After that expired penalty, Josh Gorges found Milan Michalek in the face with his stick and earned 2 minutes in the box. Buffalo killed the penalty and the game remained 3-0.
Brooks Laich lit the lamp for the Leafs with 6 and a half minutes left in the second. The puck came off the stick of Tobias Lindberg, leaving the Sabres defensive corps out of position for the goal.
With 2:37 left in the second, a Mark Pysyk shot from the point found its way into the goal as Husdon Fasching was battling in front of the net. But wait…there’s more! The play went to review as the goal was never actually called on the ice. After review, the officials determined there was incidental contact with the goaltender Sparks, meaning no goal for Buffalo. Dan Bylsma was not happy with the call, so he made the call to challenge the ruling on the ice. That didn’t work either. After 2 reviews, and roughly 10 minutes, what should have been a goal, wasn’t.
After 2 periods, Buffalo lead shots on goal 33-16 and held the lead with a 3-1 score.
Both squads had good chances at each end of the ice. Chad Johnson with a big glove save on the Maple Leafs’ Gardiner, and Jack Eichel with a missed opportunity on a breakaway were the two most memorable for each team in the first ten minutes. Foligno and Kadri exchanged pleasantries behind the Toronto net, but that was quickly diffused by the linesmen.
With 7:43 left, Casey Nelson earned his first penalty by holding on to Tyler Bozak behind the Buffalo net. Ninety-six seconds later David Legwand baited Jake Gardiner with a late bump. Gardiner retaliated with a slash right in front of the referees, making it 4 on 4 that then turned into a Sabres man-advantage. Buffalo got nothing out of their powerplay opportunity as well, with the score remaining 3-1 Buffalo.
As the Maple Leafs pulled their netminder, Marcus Foligno tripped Nazem Kadri, making it a 6 on 4 situation. Chad Johnson and the PK units stood strong and almost put the game on ice with an empty netter. But more importantly, they didn’t allow the Leafs to climb within one.
With 3 seconds left, Johan Larsson fired the puck from center ice to put the game away. But it didn’t end there. After letting the puck go, Nazem Kadri took a run at Larsson and tried dumping him into the Toronto bench. It didn’t take long for the cavalry to come. Zach Bogosian and Marcus Foligno were quickly in as reinforcements. The next faceoff was only a formality with 3 seconds left. Buffalo walked away 4-1 winners, and 3-1 over Toronto this season.
- Johan Larsson
Johan Larsson is looking more and more like the depth player that the Sabres will need in the years to come. Another 2 goals tonight (1 EN), and Larsson is now 1 goal away from hitting double digits in that category for the first time in his still young career. His chemistry with Foligno and Gionta has grown in the last few months, and it’s noticeable across the entire line.
- Chad Johnson
A strong night in goal for the Sabres netminder propelled this team to a solid win. Johnson was quick with his legs and gave very few second chances throughout the game. He came up big when it was needed on the Grabner breakaway and stood tall during the penalty kill. He will probably see most of the starts for Buffalo until the end of the season, due to Lehner’s surgery, so now would be a perfect opportunity for him to really show what he can do, especially against teams who are now battling for playoff positions.
Stick-tap to him as well, for this is Johnson’s first 20 win season.
- Eichel still has plenty of room to grow
I’m sure it may drive many fans up a wall when Jack Eichel finds himself on the breakaway or in the shootout and fails to put the puck in the back of the net. Even I admit it’s frustrating, and it’s clear that Jack himself is upset when he misses.
Tonight was no exception after his missed breakaway. Starks was on his belly, pads flush to the ground, and Jack went in too deep and just missed. Jack then looked towards the ceiling of the FNC and let out a giant scream of frustration. In certain aspects of the game, it seems as though he’s still adjusting to the difference in speed. The more he gets acclimated, the more his timing (and confidence) in clutch situations will come to fruition.
The Sabres did win this game fairly outright, but man, were the referees brutal tonight. Not just on the goal that should have been, but missed penalties (Kadri holding Foligno’s stick), and REALLY bad call on icings. Sam Reinhart had a step on both defenders, and yet the next faceoff immediately took place in front of Chad Johnson.
With the playoffs right around the corner, let’s just hope these kinds of calls affect games of much higher caliber.
- Have faith in Zach Snyder
Not hockey related at all, but i’m getting the word out somehow. Batman v. Superman was very good. Not amazing, but not bad. The casting was great. That’s right! Ben Affleck was an EXCELLENT Batman and his supersuit was awesome, and Gal Gadot is literally perfectto play Wonder Woman.
So, go see it. Because when you have no idea what’s going on during the Justice League movie coming in the next few years. You’ll have no one to blame but yourself.