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GAME: Buffalo Sabres (45-23-6) at Toronto Maple Leafs (35-32-6).
TIME: Monday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Although the Buffalo Sabres have virtually secured their first playoff berth in five years, they are going through their worst stretch of the season.
The Sabres hope to rebound from their most lopsided loss of the season when they again visit the Air Canada Centre to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Buffalo needs only one point to clinch its first playoff berth since the 2000-01 season, but is 1-7-1 since posting a 3-1 victory over Toronto on March 16 for a season-high eighth straight win.
The slide has dropped the Sabres nine points behind Ottawa for the lead in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference.
On Saturday night, the Maple Leafs scored five times - four coming in the first 6:24 - in the first period en route to a 7-0 rout of the Sabres.
"That's the worst loss I've ever been a part of," Sabres defenseman Jay McKee said. "We were dominated all over the ice in every area. We played like a team that is out of the playoffs and they played like a team that is comfortably in the playoffs."
Goaltender Ryan Miller allowed three goals on six shots before being replaced by Martin Biron. Toronto scored twice in six shots against Biron before Miller returned at the start of the second period.
"We have just lost our chemistry and we better find it in a hurry," McKee said. "We got to get out of it immediately if we want to be successful in the playoffs. It was a terrible game. I'd say we should be embarrassed."
Miller stopped nine of 11 shots over the final 40 minutes and the Sabres generated few scoring opportunities in losing for just the second time in six meetings with the Maple Leafs this season.
The Sabres were without defenseman Teppo Numminen, who is day-to-day after sustaining a sprained knee in Wednesday's 4-3 win over Boston. Center Daniel Briere is expected back in the lineup after completing a two-game suspension for high-sticking Bruins defenseman Brian Leetch on Wednesday.
"We're in a funk for whatever reason," said Miller, who is 1-5-1 in his last seven starts. "We got to put the joy back in our game."
While Buffalo is looking to return to the playoffs, Toronto is seven points behind eighth-place Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot. The Maple Leafs could miss the postseason for the first time since 1997-98.
Jean-Sebastien Aubin made 24 saves Saturday to win for the third time in as many starts this season. Aubin was recalled from the minor leagues on March 14 after Ed Belfour suffered a season-ending back injury and Mikael Tellqvist struggled.
On Saturday, Aubin was helped by Toronto's highest-scoring game since a 9-6 win over the New York Islanders on Dec. 19. Alexei Ponikarovsky had a goal and two assists and Nik Antropov scored a pair of first-period goals for Toronto.
"We have nothing to lose right now," Ponikarovsky said. "We have a stretch of 10 games. We have to try to win all of them."
STANDINGS: Sabres - 96 points, 2nd place, 9 PB, Northeast Division. Maple Leafs - 76 points, 4th place, 29 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Chris Drury, 25 goals; Maxim Afinogenov, 39 assists; Drury and Afinogenov, 58 points; Andrew Peters, 77 PIM. Maple Leafs - Darcy Tucker, 24 goals; Tomas Kaberle, 51 assists; Bryan McCabe, 63 points and 110 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sabres - Power play: 20.8 percent (90 for 443), 3rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.2 percent (344 for 399), 3rd. Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.4 percent (90 for 441), 4th. Penalty killing: 79.6 percent (358 for 447), 25th.
GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Miller (26-13-3, 0 SO, 2.69 GAA); (18-8-3, 0, 2.95). Maple Leafs - Aubin (3-0-0, 1, 1.67); Tellqvist (10-10-2, 2, 3.00).
SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 4-2.
LAST MEETING: Saturday; Maple Leafs, 7-0. At Toronto, Ian White scored his first NHL goal during a five-goal first period.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 21-13-3 on the road; Maple Leafs - 22-12-2 at home.
|Apr 16 '06||TOR 0 at BUF 6||B. Campbell|
|Apr 03 '06||BUF 3 at TOR 2 - SO||M. Afinogenov|
|Apr 01 '06||BUF 0 at TOR 7||J. O'Neill|
|Mar 16 '06||TOR 1 at BUF 3||M. Grier|
|Mar 03 '06||TOR 2 at BUF 6||D. Briere|
|Jan 26 '06||BUF 8 at TOR 4||J. Pominville|
|Dec 29 '05||BUF 3 at TOR 4 - SO||M. Sundin|
|Nov 11 '05||TOR 2 at BUF 5||T. Connolly|