TORONTO – It was nearing seven weeks and 21 games since Jack Eichel's last goal. It didn't matter if five weeks and 15 games were spent watching. It was simply too long without celebrating.
The Buffalo Sabres center made up for lost time Monday.
Eichel scored twice against Toronto, including the winner with 10:23 to play to give the Sabres a 3-2 victory. He hadn't scored since Feb. 8, mainly because of the high-ankle sprain that kept him out from Feb. 11 to March 17.
"It felt good," said Eichel, who gave a fist pump and hit the Air Canada Centre glass after opening the scoring. "I've kind of been gripping my stick a little, maybe trying to make the cute play. I thought I just worked tonight. That was kind of the attitude I came into the game with, just work hard and take care of our own end, compete, battle and see what happens.
"I was rewarded early, and when something like that happens, it kind of gets your game going a little bit."
While Eichel celebrated, he put the party on hold for Maple Leafs fans. Toronto had won 13 straight home games, and one more would have set franchise records for most wins (46) and most home wins (27) in a season.
Buffalo ended a four-game losing streak.
"How can you not enjoy that?" Eichel said. "It's always a lot of fun when you come in here and win."
Goalie switch: Linus Ullmark was scheduled to start for the third time in five games, but the Sabres goaltender got dinged by a shot late in the morning skate. He gave way to Chad Johnson, while Robin Lehner served as the backup.
Johnson stopped 39 of 41 shots after not learning of the start until 4:15 p.m.
"It's not how I want to prepare or how I want to find out, but you just deal with it," Johnson said. "It's always nice beating that team regardless of the situation. Is there another little boost to it ending the streak? Yeah, it's always fun to be that team that ends it, especially Leafs and Sabres here."
Sabres coach Phil Housley said Ullmark is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
"Just precautionary keeping him off, but it's fortunate we have three goalies here," Housley said.
Happy Jack: Eichel was pumped to get the best of friend and fellow phenom Auston Matthews. Eichel forced Matthews into a turnover in the corner, then beat him to the net for a pass from Zemgus Girgensons. After scoring around goaltender Frederik Andersen, Eichel unleashed his celebration with 3:23 gone.
One-two punch: Late in the second period, ageless Patrick Marleau needed just 1:11 to bring the Leafs from a 1-0 deficit to 2-1 lead. The 38-year-old recorded his 593rd assist on the opening goal and scored his 532nd goal to put Toronto in front.
Stick work: Marleau knocked Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella off the puck behind the net, and Mitch Marner recovered to find Nazem Kadri alone in front. The center's shot glanced off the stick of Eichel and went under Johnson with 2:29 to go in the second.
Kadri's 30th goal of the year came on Toronto's 25th shot.
In front: With Buffalo's Jason Pominville in the penalty box for high-sticking, Marleau planted himself in front of Johnson. He was able to get a rebound with 1:18 left and deposit his 24th goal of the season.
Toronto took a 2-1 lead and 29-18 shot advantage into the second intermission.
From the point: The third goal of Casey Nelson's career pulled the Sabres into a 2-2 tie. The defenseman's point shot traveled through traffic and beat Andersen with 12:04 to play.
Toronto's Mike Babcock issued a coach's challenge for goaltender interference, but the goal survived.
Back on top: Eichel's second of the night and 24th of the year was one Andersen would want back. Eichel skated down the left side with Leafs defenders on him, and he slid a slow backhand toward the net. It went between Andersen's pads with 10:23 to go.
"I don't know if it surprised him," Eichel said, "but I'll take it."
Moving down: Sabres right wing Sam Reinhart, who scored the only goal in Saturday's 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers but wasn't happy with his play, dropped from the second to third line. He skated with center Johan Larsson and left wing Jordan Nolan.
Lineup changes: Defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Justin Falk returned to the blue line after being scratched for the previous two games. Victor Antipin and Josh Gorges sat.
Long time, no see: It was the Sabres' first game in Air Canada Centre since Feb. 11, 2017. They will be back soon. Buffalo visits Toronto again Monday. The Maple Leafs announced 19,108 tickets sold Monday.
Next: Casey's up to bat. The Sabres have agreed to a contract with top prospect Casey Mittelstadt, and the center is expected to be in the lineup Thursday when Buffalo hosts Detroit in KeyBank Center.