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Mike Harrington: Visit by Leafs, Nylander callup should make for a manic Monday

You folks who work the 9-to-5 shift and revel at the advent of the weekend won't like this but my feeling for about the last three days has been simple: Get me to Monday.

If you want a recitation of what happened during Sunday's 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders, I'm not your man.

Oh, I was in KeyBank Center as normal. Loved C.J. Smith's pass for Evander Kane's goal, was wowed by Joshua Ho-Sang's breakaway deke that made you realize there's a reason he wears No. 66 in honor of Mario Lemieux. Agreed with Robin Lehner that he was outplayed by Jaroslav Halak, who made 34 saves against a Buffalo team that had better scoring chances.

But just cross it all off. Don't care much about Game 78 of 82 in a season long ago down the drain.

Now things get juicy good in Game 79. The Leafs are in town again Monday night. Second time in nine days.

And there's more: It appears Alex Nylander will make his Sabres debut. In the midst of a circus atmosphere. Against his older brother, William, just named NHL Rookie of the Month for March.

Sign us all up.

Toronto comes to town hip-deep in a wild playoff race as the season heads into the final week. The Sabres, of course, are not. Worse yet, while the Leafs are pushing to finish second in the Atlantic Division and are a full 15 points ahead of Buffalo, the Sabres are simply trying to stave off the Detroit Red Wings and stay out of the Atlantic cellar.

So sure, let's keep pushing the silly injury excuse -- the Sabres are a mediocre 25-25-7 WITH Jack Eichel -- or keep trying to to explain away how the Leafs have blown past Buffalo in Rebuild Square.

All that's left is to put a crimp in the Leafs' run and to silence their fans, who undoubtedly have gladly soaked up as many tickets as they can from the Sabres' rightly disgruntled season ticket base.

"The atmosphere in the building the last game against the Leafs was a lot different than anything we've had all year," Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said after Sunday's loss. "And I expect it again."

The backdrop for the Leafs is a messy one after the Boston Bruins pulled a stunner Sunday in Chicago, getting 41 saves from backup goalie Anton Khodubin to beat the Blackhawks, 3-2 and win their fifth straight game.

The Blackhawks were 7-1-1 in their last nine at home and it was a result folks in places like Toronto, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Brooklyn were pulling hard against happening.

But because it did, the Bruins shot back into second in the Atlantic with 92 points, albeit with just three games left to play. The Leafs and Ottawa both have 91 points, but with five games apiece left. The Leafs have a brutal remaining schedule (with home games left against Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Columbus) but the Senators seem to be losing their grip as they lose a defenseman a day to injury, with Cody Ceci going down Saturday in Winnipeg.

No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews can smash Leafs history here Monday. He had two goals in Saturday's 5-4 win in Detroit. He's got 38 for the season, tied with Minnesota's Neal Broten for the all-time record for a U.S. rookie. He's also tied Peter Ihnacak's Leafs rookie for rookie points (66) and Howie Meeker's Toronto mark for game-winning goals (8).

For all the fretting Sabres fans did over losing the Connor McDavid lottery in 2015, the fact is he can't hurt them much playing against them twice a year in the Western Conference. History may show the Leafs winning the bounce of the lottery balls just under 12 months ago will drive the Sabres crazy far worse for the next 10-15 years.

Every Matthews visit means Jack Eichel has to step up his game. The loss to the Isles was not one of Eichel's better days as he was pointless with a minus-2 rating, including the turnover that led to Ho-Sang's goal. It's the first time he's gone two straight games without a point since Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, and he seemed sluggish and not nearly as explosive as he has been of late.

Something tells me we'll see a different Eichel Monday. He's got two goals, four assists and 14 shots on goal in the three games against the Leafs he's played this year. He loves the big moment and loves playing against the Toronto crowd trying to take over his house.

Let's get more of him pounding the glass in front of all those interlopers wearing blue and white.

While Matthews-Eichel is always a Toronto-Buffalo subplot, they're going to get overshadowed for once.

William Nylander has been brilliant, fashioning a 12-game point streak last month that equaled Minnesota's Mikael Granlund for the longest of the league this season. Alex Nylander has not been, with just nine goals and 27 points in 62 games in Rochester.

But Buffalo's No. 1 pick is obviously intriguing and giving him a four-game look can't hurt things. Might give him a nice building block to head into his summer.

"We'll see where he fits in if that's the case he's coming," said captain Brian Gionta. "I'm not sure what they have planned but we'll find out. It's just going to be nice to get right back at it because we have to come with a lot more emotion than we did at this game."

Doubt that will be a problem.

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