TORONTO – For the second time this week, the Sabres are in Scotiabank Arena to meet the Toronto Maple Leafs. Buffalo is playing on a back-to-back after Friday's overtime win over Pittsburgh and did not have a morning skate today.
Toronto has won both meetings this season, a 5-4 overtime thriller in December in KeyBank Center and Monday's 5-3 victory here. Faceoff tonight is at 7:15 on MSG and WGR Radio. Thanks to Canadian television for that extra delay.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. What's at stake: The Sabres are seven points out in the wild-card race while the Leafs are three points behind Boston in the race for second in the Atlantic Division. Other key games among wild-card teams today are Edmonton at Columbus, Pittsburgh at Montreal and Carolina at Florida.
#Sabres on the outskirts of East wild-card race
MON 65 77
CBJ 63 75
PIT 64 75
PHL 65 70
BUF 64 68
FLA 63 66
(*CAR 76 pts/3rd in Metro and thus not listed)
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 2, 2019
2. Some ugly Sabres numbers: There's a lot of it heading into this one. Buffalo has dropped three straight overall to the Leafs – and has not lost four in a row to its archrival since the 1971-72 season. It lost here Monday after playing a strong first period and then getting burned for three quick goals early in the second.
"It's a big rivalry, a divisonal game, divisional opponent," coach Phil Housley said when he met reporters late this afternoon because the Sabres did not skate today. " ... We've got to focus on tonight. It will be a tough task. They're a very good hockey team. At the same time, if we can shut things down and play a boring game so to speak, we'll get opportunities to score. That's the way we look at it."
Asked if he's fed up losing to the Leafs, Housley dropped some of the coachspeak.
"I'm fed up losing to anybody for that matter," Housley said, smiling. "I like the way we started our game here the last time."
There's more numbers trouble for the Sabres: They're 0-9-1 when trying to forge a two-game winning streak since their last one, Dec. 11-13. The Sabres are just 3-13-3 in their last 19 road games and 0-5-1 in their last six.
3. Leafs on the bounceback: Toronto took Friday off to recoup from Thursday's 6-1 decimation on Long Island in John Tavares' return game. That loss snapped a three-game winning streak – the seventh time this year Toronto has won three or more.
"I really liked our game. Actually I thought it was spectacular for us for about 24 minutes," coach Mike Babcock said after his team's morning skate today. "It just goes to show you if you don't keep doing it right, you can't win in the National Hockey League against good teams. I thought it was as good a lesson as we could get."
Tavares, the subject of the fan unrest in Nassau Coliseum after his free-agent jump over the summer, took the high road today and said he was on to the next game. Fans here had his back Friday in the wake of Thursday's display in the crowd, and even Mayor John Tory tweeted his support of the Leafs' hometown star.
— John Tory (@JohnTory) March 1, 2019
"I'm focusing now on tonight and getting ready to play against Buffalo," Tavares said. "I just want to bounce back. That's what's most important, moving forward and getting back to some of the things we were doing forward.
"Ever since I've been here the support has been tremendous. Playing here and being a part of it, especially from the support you get from the fans around the city, it's a special place to play."
Seeking a second win over the Sabres this week.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 2, 2019
4. Jack vs. Auston: Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews are good friends who seem to be relishing their personal rivalry. Eichel (23-47-70 in 61 games) has 10 goals and 15 points in 11 career games against the Leafs while Matthews (30-29-59 in 50 games) has eight goals and 11 points in nine career games against Buffalo – including the sizzling overtime winner in the final seconds Dec. 4 in Buffalo.
Eichel had the third two-goal game of his career against the Leafs here in Monday's matchup. He's 5-3-8 in six career games in this building. He's also on a seven-game point streak overall, tied for his longest of the season. He's at 5-4-9 in those games.
"Elite speed. He's an interesting type skater," Babcock said. "... Against us last time he was dangerous. I thought he was the best player on the ice for both teams. It's like playing against McDavid, Draisaitl, Barzal or any of the guys that are really good. You give them space and room and they really hurt you."
5. By the numbers: Frederik Anderson (30-13-3, 2.59/.923) starts in goal for Toronto and Linus Ullmark, who made 41 saves against the Penguins, will go on back-to-back days for the first time this season. He's 14-8-4, 3.03/.910. Housley said Carter Hutton is healthy enough to play but Ullmark is being rewarded for his play Friday night and in relief here Monday. ... Marco Scandella is back on on defense for Matt Hunwick. ... Jeff Skinner's season-high goal drought is at seven games and he's stuck at 36 goals ... The Sabres have a power-play goal in four straight games and are 5 for 14 in that span. ... Former Sabre Tyler Ennis, who has nine goals and played well as a fourth-liner, will be a healthy scratch for the Leafs tonight so trade deadline acquisition Nic Petan can make his Toronto debut.