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Mike Harrington: After a big win, Sabres have to show it meant something by beating Leafs

Great win, Sabres. Highlight reel stuff. A 2-0 mark this year against the suddenly vulnerable Pittsburgh Penguins, both wins in comeback fashion in overtime.

Now do it again Saturday night. You have no other choice.

If you want real meaningful March hockey in these parts for the first time since 2012, the Sabres have to show they have some mettle and moxie to survive in one of hockey's biggest fishbowls.

Saturday night in Toronto. Hockey Night in Canada. Against the Maple Leafs. Who are coming off sheer embarrassment.

Good luck to the Blue and Gold. They might need it.

The Sabres are 0-9-1 in their last 10 games after a victory. They haven't won two in a row since beating Los Angeles and Arizona, hardly two of the NHL's heavyweights, on Dec. 11 and 13.

It's an almost unfathomable lack of success. And it's certainly unforgivable.

Even the tank team of 2015 had a pair of two-game winning streaks after the turn of the new year.

Back in the good old days of October and November, the Sabres put up monthly records of 6-4-2 and 11-3-0, respectively. Then things hit the skids: 4-6-3 in December, 4-6-0 in January and 4-7-2 in February.

That's what happens when you can't string victories. The Sabres' only hope is a long run of success. It's almost pointless to scoreboard watch.

Win your own games, especially in regulation against teams in the race, and see what happens. They're seven points out now and it's going to be hard some nights to pick up two. Friday's dramatic win gave them just one extra with all the flip-flopping being done between Carolina, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

Conor Sheary, who scored an overtime goal for Pittsburgh in Game 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup final against San Jose, burned his old team with the OT winner on this night.

Sheary has 11 goals on the season and this was his first multi-goal game since Oct. 6. It's a tad harder to score when you're not on Sidney Crosby's wing. But Sheary knows what it takes to get to the playoffs and win there. You would hope he's had a few words in the dressing room this season.

"The most important thing is that playoff teams play their best hockey at this time of the year," Sheary said afterward. "No one limps into playoffs because they had enough points before. I think the top eight teams get in for a reason. If we can find our game and get on a little streak here, I think we'll be in a good position."

Conor Sheary shows Sabres they can come back again, scores OT winner to beat Penguins

The Sabres, of course, are not in a good position. One reason is a lack of streaks. The other is their 11-17-4 road record.

A couple nights after Thanksgiving, the Sabres won a shootout in Detroit to go 8-4-1 on foreign ice. That means they're 3-13-3 in their last 19. They're 0-5-1 in the last six. They don't show up against bad teams (see Edmonton, Vancouver and New Jersey) and haven't been good enough on the road against good teams.

Sheary had said earlier in the day the Sabres were trying to break the game down as Pittsburgh simply being one of the teams ahead of them. You can't make up an eight-point deficit in one night. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan confirmed Sheary's thinking.

"It's just the reality of how close the race is right now," Sullivan said. "You have a good night or a good week and you're in the playoffs. If you don't, you're not. So we're just going to have make sure we control what we can.

"The way to do that is just stay in the moment. We have to stay focused. We can't get overwhelmed by all the distractions and the noise that's going on around us. That for your guys to talk about and write about. We're just going to focus on the game."

The Penguins have to be in disbelief they lost this one. They had 44 shots on goal and 71 attempts. Linus Ullmark was brilliant in the Buffalo goal but Pittsburgh didn't close when it had multiple chances, both in the third period and overtime.

That allowed newcomer Brandon Montour to score the tying goal with 2:32 left and Sheary to cap the madcap sequence with the overtime winner, that was officially listed as unassisted even though Rasmus Dahlin did the bulk of the work on the wild shift in the Pittsburgh zone.

So it's on to Toronto and the bright lights of the big city and the hockey world. The stats and the recent past, including Monday's 5-3 loss in Scotiabank Arena, indicate the Sabres aren't up to the task.

History says the Sabres should be. They've lost three straight to their archrivals. The last time Buffalo has dropped four in a row to Toronto? Way back in the 1971-72 season. This is no time for that kind of negative history.

"Just another game in Toronto," said a smiling Montour, an Ontario native clearly looking forward to his first Buffalo-Toronto game. "They're obviously a great team with a ton of talent. It's going to be a big test to see what we're all about."

Sure is. The Sabres entered Friday's game having fallen into 12th in the East for a night after Florida's shootout point Thursday in Vegas. It seems silly to be thinking playoffs but there's still 18 games left and 36 points to be had.

The Leafs laid a colossal egg Thursday on Long Island, cracking under the lynch mob that was the Nassau Coliseum in a 6-1 loss to the New York Islanders in John Tavares' return to his former home. They took Friday off. The Sabres will be on a back-to-back.

No excuses. Beat Toronto. Show you can stand up to your biggest rival. Otherwise, Friday night was just another meaningless blip on the schedule.

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