TORONTO — The rivalry between the Sabres and Maple Leafs has been filled with crazy moments this season. Buffalo and Toronto have hurled insults and beer cans. There have been brawls and broken jaws.
The finale Wednesday featured one more anomaly. Ryan Miller stumbled in a shootout.
Toronto scored on all three breakaway attempts to drop the Sabres, 4-3, in Air Canada Centre. Miller is the NHL’s leader in shootout victories with 49 and is near the top with a .708 save percentage, but Wednesday just wasn’t his night.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good in the shootout,” Miller said. “That’s the difference. I just didn’t have good positioning on any of those. My bad.”
Still, the night went better than the previous evening for the Sabres. They succeeded in the third period after losing in the final seconds to Philadelphia on Tuesday.
The Sabres were in a 3-2 hole entering the third, and they were just 2-23-1 when trailing after two. They had one thing working in their favor: carryover power-play time. They took advantage.
Cody Hodgson scored just 43 seconds into the third, chipping a rebound over James Reimer’s skate near the post to tie it, 3-3.
“We knew we had to step up,” left wing Matt Moulson said. “We haven’t been great on our power play, but it was a chance for us to tie the game and give us a chance to win.”
The goal allowed them to earn at least a point for the 10th time in 15 games.
“Our third period was the best period,” coach Ted Nolan said. “We just couldn’t find that fourth one.”
Said center Tyler Ennis: “We did a good job beating them in the third period and getting it to overtime and a shootout. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t get two points.”
The game featured three ties and four lead changes. Buffalo’s only advantage was 2-1, but it kept pace with the Leafs and totaled six goals in two nights. Half of the goals came off turnovers.
The teams often lacked focus while playing the second of back-to-back games. The Sabres also had to work with a short bench as Matt D’Agostini left after just seven minutes with an upper-body injury. D’Agostini had been streaking for the Sabres, putting up two goals and four points in four games.
“It was one of those games that went back and forth, and luckily it slowed down at the end a little bit,” said Miller, who made 36 saves.
It was the fifth and final meeting between the rivals (the Sabres went 2-1-2), who closed their season series with three months left on the schedule. It was an eventful year, starting with goaltenders fighting each other in preseason and ending with goalies fighting the puck.
“They kind of got it all out of the way early,” Miller said. “We started with such a bang, and now we’re done. I guess in a way it’s unfortunate, but we’ve had a lot of hockey against these guys. We’ll get caught up against the other teams.”
The Sabres are expected to take today off to rest. They’ll return to practice Friday and host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. It’s their second meeting with the new Eastern Conference foe.
“We did a good job battling, and we definitely battled harder than we did Tuesday,” Ennis said. “That’s a positive.”