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Who didn't write off the Sabres?

OK, so I'm guilty of writing them off, quite literally in this case. It wasn't just once, either. It was more like three times, starting in the first period, again early in the third period, and again when Jake Gardiner skated a circle around their defense and scored with just 9:21 left in regulation.

No matter what happens between now and Saturday, there's no denying that the Sabres keep coming back for more when it appears they're all but dead and buried. It happened during the regular season when they slipped into last place in the conference. It happened when they lost two games last weekend.

And they survived yet again.

How exactly? The Sabres themselves were scrambling for answers after scrambling for the final 43 1/2 minutes before Derek Roy scored a power-play goal in overtime in a wild 6-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in First Niagara Center. Buffalo was trailing going into the final two minutes of regulation before Jordan Leopold scored during a mad scramble in front of the net.

All that scrambling explains why so many brains were scrambled after the game. It was all so bizarre. Buffalo pulled even with Washington with a tiebreaker leaving the Sabres behind in a dash for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia and Boston await Buffalo to finish the season.

Eighty games down, two remaining, and it's still not clear whether they can complete the season comeback the way they did Tuesday's game. In some ways, it felt like the Bills' comeback against Houston in 1993 en route to their third straight Super Bowl.

"You say that you know you're going to win the game, but knowing and doing are two different things," Leopold said. "We somehow found a way to win. We stuck together and encouraged each other. Sometimes you run out of time in a game. Luckily, we squeaked one out."

Defenseman Alexander Sulzer, tossed into the Cody Hodgson trade as a depth defenseman at the trade deadline, scored twice and set up Tyler Ennis for a pretty goal in the second period. Leopold abandoned the blue line and scored with 1:53 remaining in regulation when he poked a puck home to tie the game.

Referee Mike Hasenfratz deserved the first star of the game. He was on top of the entire play through all the arms and legs, which was why he didn't blow the play dead. Nobody else, including Leopold, knew where the puck was located with Marcus Foligno buried under Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek among the bodies in front of the net.

"I think the ref was watching how many times I got punched in the face," Foligno said, "and he was in awe."

Leopold was digging for hay when he threaded the needle. He pitch-forked the puck behind Ben Scrivens to force overtime and dig the Sabres out of trouble. A loss Tuesday, and the Sabres were all but finished, so Leopold kept digging.

"You take a stab at it," Leopold said. "It was even tough for us to see the puck. It ended up going in."

It was a strange goal, certainly, but in the end who cared how he scored?

The Sabres came back from a 3-0 deficit in the first period. Give them credit for their resolve in the final two periods. Give them the criticism they deserve for inexplicably failing to show up for the first period.

The passion Buffalo showed in the final two periods and overtime was absent in the first. They pulled themselves together. Another poor effort could be fatal against Philly and Boston.

Ryan Miller acknowledged the mental battle that came with ridding himself of dark thoughts running through his head Tuesday. You can't blame the guy, or anybody else, for having a few doubts.

"Going to give me a heart attack," Miller said.

Toronto was 21-4-0 this season when leading after the first period and 24-1-1 when leading after two. Buffalo was 3-24-2 when trailing going into the third period. Let's be honest, it didn't look very good when Clarke MacArthur gave the Leafs a 4-2 lead early in the third and when they couldn't stop traffic on the Gardiner Expressway to make it 5-3.

Leopold insisted he kept the faith, as he had all season, when the Sabres appeared ready to pack up for another long offseason. He said his teammates were the same way during the first intermission after they embarrassed themselves and were booed off the ice in the first 20 minutes. They kept scrambling. They kept digging. They kept fighting.

They kept believing when others -- guilty! -- did not.

Truthfully, did you believe?

"We could have lost faith a month and a half ago, and we didn't," Leopold said. "Close isn't good enough. We want to get into the playoffs. That's the bottom line. Tonight, we somehow pulled one out. I think the big guy upstairs helped out a little bit."

email: bgleason@buffnews.com