on March 21, 2013 - 10:34 PM
, updated March 22, 2013 at 12:19 PM
The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs have spent 43 years tormenting and badgering each other. The fans have relished the rivalry, cheering and jeering the emotion-filled games on both sides of the border.
The split-allegiance spectators who filled First Niagara Center on Thursday thoroughly enjoyed the latest chapter. Buffalo’s fans liked it a bit more.
The Sabres skated away with a wild 5-4 shootout victory after Steve Ott scored in the sixth round. The goal gave Buffalo’s backers in the rowdy, roar-filled crowd of 19,070 one last chance to outshout Toronto’s faithful.
“This was fun hockey,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. “With Toronto, obviously, it adds a little bit.”
The Sabres won their second straight game and improved to 3-1-1 in their last five by showing the resiliency that has grown remarkably under interim coach Ron Rolston. Toronto had a 2-0 lead after 10 minutes and had a 3-1 advantage midway through the second period. Buffalo rallied to take a 4-3 lead early in the third, then improved to 4-2 in the breakaway challenge.
“It would be nice if we could get some regulation wins because basically we’re trying to catch those teams, but we hung in there and we’re pretty happy with the shootout win,” said Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who had a goal and three points to help enliven the atmosphere. “It seems like when Toronto fans are here they bring out the best in our fans. They just try to one-up one another, and it was a fun game to play in right from the start there with the fights, a lot of goals.”
The energy level was typically high from the outset with Leafs fans flooding the building, and a pair of fights 2:09 in amped things even more. John Scott and Frazer McLaren dropped the gloves off a faceoff, then Colton Orr charged at Patrick Kaleta.
It was an applause-creating appetizer.
“They got their money’s worth,” Rolston said of the fans. “It was an exciting game, maybe not for the coaches in terms of the momentum swings, but it was an entertaining game.”
The Leafs, playing for the second straight night, enjoyed the first jolt of emotion. They scored on two of their first three shots, with Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri beating goaltender Ryan Miller in the opening 10:04.
Tyler Ennis got the Sabres on the board 1:06 before the first period ended, but Mikhail Grabovski rebuilt Toronto’s two-goal lead with 8:52 gone in the second.
“It didn’t really seem to affect us that negatively to be down,” Ehrhoff said. “We just kept going.”
Foligno and captain Jason Pominville scored 45 seconds apart midway through the second to tie the game and get the fans in Blue and Gold back into the festivities.
“Their fans come here, and it’s pretty loud for them,” Foligno said. “But we got the fans out of it later, picked up our tempo and had some good power plays.”
The teams entered the final period tied at 3-all, but the Sabres needed just 22 seconds to change that. They scored with a man advantage for the third straight game, the first time they’ve done so all season.
Ehrhoff glided toward the middle of the zone and unleashed a slap shot that soared past goalie James Reimer, giving the Sabres their first lead.
Toronto, though, answered with its own power-play goal. Kadri scored his second of the night with 6:33 gone in the third, ultimately sending the contest through 65 minutes of play and 12 shootout attempts.
The worst part for the crowd was it finally ended. The Sabres hope the fun is just beginning.
“We know that we have a bit of a hill to climb, but why can’t we be the team?” said Kaleta, whose 11th-place club heads to Montreal on Saturday just four points out of eighth. “We’re coming together here and playing as a team, and I think we’re reaping the benefits of it.”
Sabres 5, Maple Leafs 4 (SO)
Slap shots: Ott scores the winner in shootout as Sabres improve to 3-1-1 in last five games. ... Foligno, Pominville score 45 seconds apart in second to send teams into third period tied, 3-3. ... Leafs score on two of first three shots, but Ennis scores late in first to cut Sabres’ deficit to 2-1.
Fast fact: Jason Pominville ended an eight-game scoring drought, his second-longest slump since 2008-09.
Next game: At Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m. Saturday in Bell Centre.