TORONTO — There were so many elements to the Buffalo Sabres’ latest thrill ride with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night in Air Canada Centre.
The record books will show the Leafs won in a shootout, 4-3, as Joffrey Lupul got the only goal. They’ll show that Sabres captain Steve Ott forced overtime on a power-play goal in a six-on-four situation with 24.1 seconds left in regulation and Ryan Miller on the bench.
The deeper stats will point out the Sabres blew their first 2-0 lead of the season and got bludgeoned in a three-goal Toronto second period that saw the Leafs outshoot them, 17-5. And how the loss dropped them to 3-1-2 in their last six overall and 0-7-2 in their last nine on the road.
All brute numbers. Fine. But this game is going to be remembered for one thing and one thing only.
John Scott scored a goal. And it was a beauty.
The Sabres’ 6-foot-8 enforcer made his 200th NHL game a memorable one by slamming home a Matt Ellis rebound at 7:53 of the first period. It came 52 seconds after Matt Moulson opened the scoring, gave the Sabres their two-goal advantage and drew boos and catcalls from the crowd of 19,405. It was just the second goal of Scott’s career.
Scott had a gleam in his eye when he spoke to reporters after this one. He’s a master of the deadpan under normal circumstances and he didn’t disappoint this time.
Asked about scoring on the Leafs – his foil during the celebrated September preseason brawl between the clubs here – a smiling Scott scored again when he said, “I seem to do some special stuff in this building.”
Asked if he remembered his previous goal, Scott looked at a Toronto reporter like he was crazy. The goal came on Nov. 15, 2009 for Minnesota at Carolina – or 165 games ago. Scott said he pinched in from defense to beat Cam Ward.
Said Scott: “When you only score two, you remember them all.”
Scott has been getting more meaningful minutes under Ted Nolan and the Sabres’ interim coach wants him to play more and fight less.
Scott, in fact, played 12 minutes, 39 seconds in the game and had three shots on goal. Both figures were easily his highest in two years as a Sabre.
The genesis of the goal was a turnover inside the Buffalo line and some brutal puck control by Bernier.
Matt Ellis stole the puck and skated through the neutral zone, flipping a shot at the goal before he even crossed the blue line.
Bernier dropped to his knees but failed to catch the puck and kicked it back in front of him. Ellis fanned at the first rebound chance but Scott, looking as if he’d done this before, skated through the slot and ripped the puck home past a diving Bernier.
“He put that one home like a natural,” said Moulson.
“I had an open net and all I had to do was throw it in there,” Scott said. “I knew Bernier was coming back in so I wanted to get it to the right side of the net, get it maybe up in the air a little bit.”
Both hands thrust in the air in celebration, Scott was quickly grabbed by Ellis as they hit the boards while Christian Ehrhoff grabbed the puck and the rest of the team followed.
The hoots of the Sabres on the bench were audible in the press box and the smiles were large as Scott made his way through the land of teammates with their hands out to congratulate him.
“It was a special night for him and to see him find the back of the net, we were pretty pumped,” Ellis said.
Of course, the hockey gods had some say in things after Scott’s goal. He was frustrated by a foolish high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone at 19:16 of the second period – and Phil Kessel potted a power-play goal off a sick back pass from James van Riemsdyk 27 seconds later to put the Leafs up, 3-2.
Kessel, of course, got a three-game preseason suspension for his Paul Bunyan act on Scott’s leg during the teams’ celebrated September dustup.
The Sabres were frustrated by their second period, as the Leafs scored their three goals in the final nine minutes and had Miller under siege for long stretches.
“One of the worst periods we’ve played all year,” Moulson said.
“We fed into their transition game, allowed them to take over the game and gave them momentum,” Ellis said. “We got our point but there’s a fine line between winning and losing.”