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Mike Harrington: It's quite a show when Leafs come to town

How about seven Sabres-Leafs games come April? How about seven Auston Matthews- Jack Eichel showdowns?

What we saw Tuesday night in KeyBank Center was flat-out epic. Nice job by NBC Sports Network to have the foresight to understand what the Buffalo-Toronto rivalry means and what it could become.

It's pretty obvious what all the fuss is about with the Maple Leafs this year. And what all the noise from their fans is about too.

The Leafs are just oozing skill. They pound teams. They've won six straight home games by at least two goals, something they haven't done since 1968. They've won 15 games overall this year by two or more goals.

But Tuesday's overtime thriller was a barnburner. And what a shot to the gut  Matthews handed the Sabres with 2.7 seconds left in overtime, a brilliant laser to end a fascinating series opener for this season between these two rivals.

"He obviously loves these opportunities when he's got a chance to get the puck on his stick, game on the line," said Leafs center John Tavares. "It's pretty lethal. It's hard to think of anyone who's as dangerous as that in that spot."

(Memo to the Sabres: You're in the final 10 seconds of overtime. Mind the puck. And maybe just tackle somebody. What's the difference if you get a penalty in that spot? Just get to the shootout).

Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 3 (OT)

Matthews has 15 goals and 23 points in 14 games this year. He's got five goals in the three games he's played since returning from a shoulder injury that cost him 14 games.

And he wasn't even supposed to be on the ice when he scored his winning goal. He was tired and thinking about heading to the bench. He stayed on, probably overstayed, but got the winner anyway.

"We caught a break there. I didn't really know how much time was left," he said. "Toward the end of my shift, I decided to stay out there and pull it in, pick a corner I guess. I was lucky to get it off with a little bit of time remaining."

Go down the Leafs lineup and look at the depth. Tavares came home in free agency in July and has 17 goals. There's Matthews, the former No. 1 overall pick taken when the draft was here 2 1/2 years ago. There's the wizardry of Mitch Marner, with 33 assists and 39 points in 28 games. The sage work of Patrick Marleau, a possible Norris Trophy winner in Morgan Rielly, a stellar goaltender in Frederik Andersen.

But from the start of Tuesday's game, the teams' roles seemed reversed. Which team was on a back-to-back after playing a grinding game Monday night in the Central time zone and which team was snugly in their Buffalo beds? It was hard to tell.

The Leafs were being outshot, 13-3, after 11 minutes. For some perspective, consider that the Sabres had just 17 shots on goal over the first 58 1/2 minutes Monday in Nashville.

It took 10 seconds for the first "Go Leafs Go" chant to erupt. And only maybe another 10 or 15 seconds for Sabres fans to shout it down. The byplay in the stands continued all night.

So did the back and forth on the ice.

In the end, this was not one of the Leafs' better performances. The Sabres found a lot of open ice and got plenty of shots through on Andersen. They played keepaway for much of overtime too.

The Sabres are the interloper, the team nobody saw coming this hard this fast. The Leafs are where everyone expected them to be. Playing with expectations is never easy but they've done the job to this point, even with the William Nylander contract drama serving as a daily sideshow and Matthews' injury causing trouble as well.

The Leafs are coming off a 49-win, 105-point season that set franchise records in both categories but they were a first-round loser in Game 7 at Boston. For all the Stanley Cup talk, Leafs fans best remember it takes four series victories in one spring to raise hockey's sacred praise and their team hasn't won a single series since 2004.

The Wraparound: Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 3, OT

The good news, of course, is the Leafs' championship window is going to be open for many years.

Signing Matthews and Marner is going to be one expensive proposition -- maybe $12 million and $10 million per year, respectively -- and it was with that eye on the future that GM Kyle Dubas had to hold the line on Nylander.

To get anywhere in the next decade or so, the Sabres are going to have to figure out how to beat Tampa Bay and how to beat Toronto. They've reached the first step: Being competitive.

“Every time we came here before, there was always a lot of energy in the building, a lot of Leaf fans," coach Mike Babcock said a few hours before faceoff. "Pretty soon Leaf fans won’t be able to buy tickets anymore because Buffalo fans will have bought them already.”

The Leafs knew what they were in for when they hit town. In the wake of the Sabres' 10-game winning streak, everybody does now.

"Every time we've played them the last two years, they give us a really good game," Matthews said. "They get up for it, we get up for it and it's obviously a really good atmosphere anytime we play in this building."

More please.

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