Leafs Gear Up For QEW Rivals
MAPLE LEAFS (16-12-2) at SABRES (11-15-4)
TV: SNET-O, MSG-B
Last 10: Toronto 4-4-2; Buffalo 4-3-3
Season series: This is the last of four meetings. The Toronto Maple Leafs have won two in a row after losing the first, with one game going to overtime.
Big story: Ron Rolston took over as coach of the Buffalo Sabres one month ago Wednesday. On that day, they were 13th in the Eastern Conference. Thursday morning, they are 13th in the Eastern Conference, though they have gone 7-5-3 in 15 games under Rolston after going 4-10-1 in 15 under Lindy Ruff.
The Sabres are chasing, among others, the Maple Leafs, who are sixth in the East after a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
"Tomorrow is obviously a big test for us," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said on the team's website Wednesday. "[It's] a team we're trying to catch. It's going to be a big game, a home game that it'd be nice to pull off and get ourselves closer to where we want to be."
Maple Leafs: Forward Joffrey Lupul has three goals and an assist in two games since returning from a broken arm, but he was penalized for an illegal check to the head of Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman in the third period Wednesday.
"I was surprised, I didn't see the play, actually what had happened," coach Randy Carlyle said. "Somebody said something about the Lupul hit and I haven't had a chance to review it."
It was Toronto's first win in two weeks, a losing streak of five games.
"It feels really good, but at the same time there was no panic in here," goalie James Reimer told the team's website. "... We weren't doing things to our best ability and that'll happen sometimes. I thought we put together pretty much a solid 60 minutes tonight and we can build off it, feel good and hopefully bring another good performance tomorrow."
Defenseman Jake Gardiner was back with the team after being recalled from the American Hockey League. He played 19:20 and was a minus-1.
"I was moving my feet well, and our team played really well tonight, so that really helped," Gardiner said, adding, "It's good to get the first one out of there."
Thursday starts a string of six games in nine days, three on the road.
"We need to build on the success of the win here and carry that over into the next one, the next one, the next one, because all of these games are going to come quick here," Carlyle said.
Sabres: Buffalo could be without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who was hit by a shot from a teammate in the first period of a 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. Rolston said Vanek (31 points) would be a game-day decision.
Steve Ott moved up to the top line alongside Pominville and Cody Hodgson and scored twice, including the OT winner.
"I think you want to find the right combinations in the lines," Rolston said. "[Ott] provides that, just the presence and the grittiness and kind of a heavy presence out on the ice."
It was the Sabres' 18th one-goal game; they are 7-7-4 in them.
"I think we have 11 losses by one goal," Pominville said. "[They] could have been easily points for us. I think we don't want to be the team that cracks first when the game's on the line, and at times we have been, and it's cost us points and cost us games. But I don't think on any given night you can expect an easy night and easy points because it's just not going to happen that way."
Ryan Miller likely will start in goal after watching from the bench Tuesday. He said he noticed more detail-oriented teammates.
"We connected, we got up ice, we got the puck in," Miller said. "It's amazing how it translates to a game where we can get a lead. …
"It just comes down to, for us, it's not going to matter who we're playing against. Our habits have to be our own. We have to go out and play the way we've been playing."
Who's hot: Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri had three assists Wednesday, giving him five in the past two games playing on a line with Lupul. Forward Phil Kessel has a five-game points streak (four goals, four assists). … Ott has five points in his past six games. Forward Tyler Ennis has three points in the past two games. Hodgson is plus-4 in March after entering the month minus-5.
Injury report: The Maple Leafs have no injuries. … Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera (upper body) is day-to-day.