In the worst of times, Toronto Maple Leafs fans have poured into KeyBank Center for games against the Sabres. The intensity figures to be ramped up quite a bit Saturday night, with the Leafs well on the way to their first playoff berth in a non-lockout season since 2004.
"We always love playing in Buffalo just because the Toronto fans always come down to support us and it almost seems like a home game for us," center Nazem Kadri said today. "Our support has been very generous throughout my years here. Buffalo is always a great place to play. Their fans are very passionate, very educated. We expect a hostile atmosphere some but we have to come in and get a good start."
It may not be as hostile as he thinks. Leafs fans have been swallowing up tickets on secondary market sites for the game as Sabres fans seem to be cashing out on their team's sixth straight non-playoff season.
"We've got a handle on how to play and I think we've got a belief if we play the right way it gives us an opportunity to win each and every night," said coach Mike Babcock. "To me, that's the biggest advancement for sure."
The Leafs enter the game with a three-point lead over Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division. They've won three in a row and are 7-1-1 in the last nine gmaes. With nine games left, Kadri admitted it's getting tougher to not look at the big picture.
The Leafs haven't been in the playoffs since losing Game Seven of the first round of the 2013 lockout season in Boston; in their last full-season trip, they lost to Philadelphia in the second round in 2004.
"Especially the guys that were here for the last playoff run, just to see how immaculate and how fantastic the entire energy was and how electric the atmosphere was," Kadri said when asked how he ponders the playoffs. "But we do have to take it game by game because we know how drastically how things can change in a week. It's important for us to keep collecting points.
"It's human nature. You work so hard to achieve a goal and set a goal aside at the beginning of the season. As the season comes to a close, you start to realize it's closer in reach. It's very exciting and motivating as well to give us extra incentive to put our foot down on the gas."
The Sabres are 17-2-1 in their last 20 home games against Toronto but the Leafs posted a 2-1 win here in November.
Rookie Auston Matthews leads the Leafs in goals (33) and points (60) -- and is one shy of tying the franchise record for goals by a rookie set by Wendel Clark in 1986. Fellow rookie Mitch Marner is at 17-40-57. Kadri (30 goals) and James van Riemsdyk are both at 55 points. Frederik Andersen, now a 30-game winner, will start in goal. He's 30-15-14, 2.64/.919
William Nylander, older brother of Sabres No. 1 draft pick Alex Nylander, extended his point streak to a franchise-rookie record 10 games Thursday against New Jersey. Nylander leads rookies in points since the All-Star break with 25 and is at 21-35-56 for the season. The old club record of nine straight games was held Gus Bodnar in 1943-44, and matched by Bob Nevin in 1960-61 and Dan Daoust in 1982-83.
William Nylander with a disgusting wrist shot, his 21st goal of the season, puts the Leafs up 2-1 late in the first period. pic.twitter.com/cWH3S2fMgq
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 24, 2017