TORONTO – The Sabres knew the math. A loss to Toronto would put them nine points back. A victory would cut the deficit to five.
Give 'em five.
Buffalo came out flying in Air Canada Centre, then relied on Robin Lehner for a 3-1 victory Saturday. The Sabres pulled within five points of the Maple Leafs, who hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
There are five teams between the clubs, but five points sounds way better than nine.
Big start: The Sabres exploded for three goals in the first period to take a 3-0 lead. Evander Kane scored twice, Sam Reinhart had a goal and assist, while Jack Eichel had three helpers.
Saving grace: It took the Leafs more than nine minutes to take their first shot, but they finished with a 44-23 advantage. Lehner shut the door, allowing only a fluke goal, to hand Toronto its first regulation loss in five games.
The Sabres have allowed at least 40 shots in three straight games.
Kane’s first: The Sabres needed 4:03 to open the scoring. Eichel won an offensive-zone draw to Reinhart, who pushed the puck to Kane. The left winger promptly fired into the top corner.
Power-play rush: Eichel sent Kyle Okposo and Reinhart on a two-on-one, and Reinhart easily beat goaltender Frederik Andersen just 55 seconds after Kane scored. It was Reinhart's 12th of the season and seventh on the power play.
Kane’s second: The streaking winger took over the Sabres’ scoring lead with his 18th goal. Eichel took a pass below the goal line and waited for Kane to find space near the left faceoff dot. Kane sent a laser past Andersen to make it 3-0 with 1:58 left in the first.
At the time of the goal, Kane ranked fourth in the NHL with 18 goals since Dec. 1, including a league-best 17 at even strength.
On the board: The Leafs cut their deficit to 3-1 with 4:03 left in the second. With Buffalo’s Josh Gorges in the box for tripping, Mitch Marner carried the puck behind the Sabres’ net. He sent it to the front, where it bounced off defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and goaltender Robin Lehner to carom into the net.
Who did what?: Ristolainen and the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk dropped the gloves during the first period. It was only the second fight of Ristolainen’s career and the third for van Riemsdyk.
Bailey gets a boost: Rookie Justin Bailey skated as the left winger for center Ryan O’Reilly and right wing Kyle Okposo.
“He’s definitely earned it and been one of our more effective players with his speed in the time that he’s gotten,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s had a little more tenacity on the puck and putting pressure on the opposition with that speed. “
Position switch: The Sabres recalled forward Evan Rodrigues one day after sending him to Rochester. For the first time in the NHL, he played center. He skated in the middle of left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Brian Gionta.
“Growing up I played center, then through college I didn’t very much,” Rodrigues said. “This year, I’ve played probably half the year at center” with the Amerks.
Milestone: Van Riemsdyk skated in his 500th game as Toronto celebrated “You Can Play Night.” Van Riemsdyk was the ambassador as the Leafs welcomed players from the Toronto Gay Hockey Association to the morning skate.
Next: The Sabres welcome the Vancouver Canucks to KeyBank Center on Sunday with a rare 7:30 p.m. start. Ryan Miller was in net for the Canucks’ 4-3 loss Saturday in Boston, so he is not expected to play.