It was hardly a laugher. The Buffalo Sabres had tense moments throughout, and they needed supreme goaltending and Herculean penalty killing to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But still, as the building emptied, Sabres fans got to tell their latest joke.
How are Leafs fans like this month's weather? They come in like lions and go out like lambs.
The overwhelming Toronto contingent that helped sell out HSBC Arena on Thursday night trudged back over the border with that familiar losing feeling. The Sabres earned a playoff-like 3-1 victory, moving their record against Toronto in the arena to 16-4-3. This season they are 3-0 against the Leafs in HSBC and 4-0-1 overall.
The previous two wins at home were easy -- 6-2 and 5-2 -- but this one wasn't decided until Chris Drury scored a short-handed, empty-net insurance goal with 58.3 seconds left.
"It was a tough night for us, but I think it's something that we needed," said Sabres forward Mike Grier, who scored the game-winner with 11:46 to play. "We've been a little bit loose defensively the last few games, so just seeing how hard they were working made us pick our game up."
Goaltender Ryan Miller erased any slump talk, allowing only one goal after giving up 14 in his previous three games. The intensity helped boost his 27-save performance.
"It had a good feel to it," Miller said. "Toronto played one of the best games I've seen them play all year. They looked sharp. They were taking the body quite a bit. They were aggressive. It had a bit of the feel we're going see going down the line here. It's going to be intense."
Miller's biggest save came with 5:10 to play and the Sabres holding a 2-1 lead. With Drury in the box for four minutes after high-sticking Jason Allison, the Leafs started their power play with a flurry of five shots and in-close mayhem.
When a pass slid across the crease to a wide-open Darcy Tucker, Miller slid to his left to erase the tying goal.
"I got a good read and I got a good push," Miller said. "He made a nice shot. I just got a toe on it, barely."
The Leafs still had 3:20 left of power-play time after the save, but the Sabres kept them without a shot for the remainder. Despite missing their three best penalty killers in Drury, Jochen Hecht (who left with a knee injury) and Tim Connolly (who didn't play because of a knee injury), the Sabres were steadfast.
Daniel Briere, Paul Gaustad and Taylor Pyatt helped lead wave after wave of defenders who refused to give Toronto a chance.
"The key to deserving the victory was the amount of battle we had in the penalty-kill situations," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
For an encore, the Sabres had to kill a delay-of-game penalty to Dmitri Kalinin for the final 1:11. Not only did they kill it, but after Miller made another blocker save, the rebound went to Drury and he golfed the puck down the ice into an empty net to seal it.
"It's something we take pride in," defenseman Toni Lydman said of the short-handed play. "Everybody was just doing a great job. There were guys out there that don't usually play that much penalty killing, and they did a really good job."
The Sabres entered the third period with a 1-0 lead thanks to Drury's first goal of the night. Briere spun away from Toronto's Clarke Wilm and Luke Richardson at the top of the slot and found Drury near the side of the net. The co-captain went high over a sprawled Mikael Tellqvist for a power-play goal 8:32 into the second.
Toronto captain Mats Sundin tied it 4:33 into the third, taking a slap shot from the left boards that skimmed Miller's pants, hit the post, hit his heel, then went in.
"So that was a lot of fun," Miller said with a mocking chuckle.
Grier gave the Sabres the lead back after Drury chipped the puck into the Toronto zone. Grier beat Wade Belak to the puck, dipped around the defenseman and broke in alone on Tellqvist. The goalie stopped the first shot, but Grier deposited the rebound.
The victory, coupled with Ottawa's shootout loss to Boston, put the Sabres just one point behind the Senators in the Northeast Division. They meet with first place on the line Saturday night in Ottawa.