Buffalo Sabres Matt Ellis Scores First of the Season to Beat the Toronto Maple Leafs

A seesaw bout ended with the Buffalo Sabres victorious over the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night by a score of 4 to 3 at First Niagara Center. With a win in game number 77, the Sabres have now won two games in row for the first time since February 26th-28th and split the four-game season series with the Leafs.

Zac Dalpe opened up the scoring in this game with his first goal in a Buffalo Sabres uniform. Skating the puck into the Maple Leafs zone, Cody Hodgson threw a pass across the zone that looked like it was intended for Andrej Meszaros. The puck pinballed off a couple of skates and eventually landed on Dalpe’s blade before he put it past Leaf’s goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Matt Ellis and Andrej Meszaros were credited with the helpers on the goal and it was Ellis’ first point of the season. Here’s how Dalpe explained his first Sabres goal:

“It was kind of a broken play in our end that resulted in a 4 on 2 [going into the Maple Leafs zone] and the puck bounced off a couple skates, ended up in front and I just whacked away and it went in.”

The Leafs, playing in front of a loud blue and white crowd, responded to the Sabres early first period goal by scoring the next three. James van Riemsdyk scored his 25th goal of the season on an excellent play setup by Toronto superstar, Phil Kessel. Kessel had two assists on the night and improved his season point tally to 59 points (24 G, 35 A) in 78 games played.

A two-goal lead in hockey is the same as a no-goal lead. That would be the case in this game as Cody Hodgson narrowed the Leafs lead by just one goal only 30 seconds after Toronto took a 3-1 lead halfway through the second. Beating Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf—he looked awful tonight—behind Bernier’s cage, Hodgson took the puck and wrapped it around to score his 6th of the year. His last time making a tally on the scoresheet was on March 16th when the Sabres hosted the Washington Capitals. 

Down 3-2 early in the third and on the power play, Johan Larsson worked the puck behind the Leafs goal and fed Matt Moulson out in front for the game tying goal and his 13th of the year. With the assist on the play, Larsson improved to 9 points (2 G, 7 A) with a plus-four rating in his past 11 games.

And if scoring his first point in 33 games wasn’t enough, Ellis also scored the next goal, the game winner, and the Sabres were able to hold on for the victory. Receiving a pass from Nikita Zadorov, Ellis split the defenseman and deked Bernier to his backhand and slid it past the wickets for his first multi-point game since March 31st, 2010.

“It wasn’t the Power Backhand, per se,” Matt Ellis jokingly explained his goal to the media. But the first thing Tyler Ennis said to me after I scored it, he looked at me and said, “Backhand.” They know I like going to my backhand and it has been a running joke since I scored in Columbus last year with a backhand from the blue line.”

Matt Ellis (pictured above) scored his first goal of the season to put the Sabres up 4-3 early in the third period of Wednesday night's action.  Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Matt Ellis (pictured above) scored his first goal of the season to put the Sabres up 4-3 early in the third period of Wednesday night's action. 

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Following the win, the locker room just had a completely different vibe. Smiles were abound and the players were up and about joking with one another. It was nice to see a team that works so hard finally get a home win against their rivals.

“It’s about the integrity of the game. You’re not going to tell professional athletes not to work and not to compete. This group here, they’re giving us what they have for the last while here,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan told the media following the comeback win. “It feels good when you see a group like this work and they get rewarded [with] a win.”

Breathe easy, Sabres fans. Yes, the point margin between Buffalo and Arizona is becoming slimmer, but just look at the schedule that the Sabres end the season with. Three of the five remaining games are against teams that are gunning for a playoff spot. Patrick Sharp and his Chicago Blackhawks are scheduled to play in Buffalo next. The Hawks are currently hot on the heels of the St. Louis Blues for second place in the Central division and third in the Western Conference.