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Friday, December 27th (All times Eastern)
Buffalo Sabres (10-24-3) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-16-5), 7:30 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Buffalo Sabres headed into the Christmas break playing their best hockey of the season. It was pretty much the opposite for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sabres will shoot for a fourth win in five games when they visit the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs in Friday's Atlantic Division battle at Air Canada Centre.
Although Buffalo is still last in the NHL with 23 points, the club has recorded four of its 10 wins this season over the last seven games. The Sabres' latest victory, Monday's 2-1 overtime win against visiting Phoenix, came with a little bit of luck, as Buffalo was the beneficiary of a bizarre play in the extra session.
Mark Pysyk fired a shot from near the right circle 3:47 into the extra session which was initially stopped by Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, but the puck bounced straight up into the air and was batted down by a Phoenix defender and landed in the back of Smith's pants.
Smith, unaware of the disc wedged in his pants, turned and slid backwards into the net carrying the puck across the goal line for the game-winner.
"I saw it come down and figured it landed. I didn't know where it went from there, but I saw he was in the net and figured it was in," said Pysyk.
Tyler Ennis scored the game-tying goal 14:01 into the final session for the Sabres. Ryan Miller made 36 saves in the win.
Although Buffalo has picked up the pace recently, the club still enters Friday on an eight-game road losing streak. The Sabres, who last won as the guest on Nov. 5 in San Jose, are just 3-12-1 on the road this season.
The Sabres have not fared well in Toronto recently either, losing two straight and seven of the last eight encounters at Air Canada Centre. Buffalo, however, has won three of the past four meetings overall.
Toronto lost seven out of nine heading into the Christmas break, but the club at least has managed to earn points in three straight outings. The Maple Leafs have gone to the shootout phase in each of their last three games, beating Phoenix on Dec. 19 before losing consecutive tilts against Detroit and the New York Rangers.
The Maple Leafs seemed on the verge of a regulation defeat Monday in New York City, but they came up with a controversial goal after Rangers forward Chris Kreider was sent off for shooting the puck over the glass with 3:34 remaining in the third period. New York goaltender Cam Talbot appeared to cover up David Clarkson's chance in-close on the man advantage, but the whistle never blew and Nazem Kadri alertly pushed the puck over the line to make it a 1-1 game with only 84 seconds to go in regulation.
However, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello each scored for the Rangers during the shootout, while Joffrey Lupul scored Toronto's lone goal in the decisive segment. Kadri had a chance to extend the shootout for Toronto, but was denied by Talbot.
Toronto fell for the ninth time in its last 10 road games despite a terrific 42-save performance from Jonathan Bernier.
"Our goaltender stood on his head," Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle remarked. "That's all you can ask in a game like this one."
The Leafs are 12-8-1 as the home team this season compared to a 6-8-4 record on the road.
Buffalo hopes to have leading scorer Cody Hodgson back tonight after the centerman missed the last two games due to an upper-body injury. Hodgson has eight goals and 11 assists to pace the Sabres with 19 points.
12/27 10:48:25 ET