Lowly Sabers lay one last beating on Maple Leafs to take season series

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Good riddance, Buffalo Sabers.

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The Maple Leafs couldn’t be happier to be done with you this season.

The Sabers put an exclamation mark on the season series with the Leafs, winning 5-2 at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday night.

Buffalo won three of four against Toronto and is the only team to beat the Leafs three times in 2021-22.

Three nights after clinching a playoff berth, the Leafs not only were flat, they didn’t have an answer for the Sabers’ hustle.

That followed a pattern against the Sabers, as the Leafs were outscored 15-5 in the final three meetings. In the first game of the season versus Buffalo, back in November, a late goal in regulation by Morgan Rielly gave Toronto a 5-4 win.

“That’s four games against this team, and we have been no-shows in all four,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

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“It’s hard to pinpoint. It seems like maybe every year there is one team that, for whatever reason, you don’t have your game against them.”

The Leafs have been playing good hockey, so they won’t dwell too long on the loss with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals hitting Toronto on Thursday night.

But losses against teams such as Buffalo and other non-playoff clubs have kept the Leafs from making a real charge at first place in the Atlantic Division.

With nine games remaining, the Leafs are in second place with 100 points, but have little chance of catching the first-place Florida Panthers, who won again on Tuesday and have 110 points.

“It’s been puzzling all season,” Keefe said. “Games like this are why we’re still competing for home ice in the first round.

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“We’ve played so well for most of the season against most of the teams in the league. Nights like this are holding us back from competing to win the division. That’s the disappointing part.”

The Leafs won eight of their previous 10. Buffalo had won three of its previous 10 games and is now 35 points behind Toronto in the standings.

The Sabers, in the National Hockey League debut of 2021 first overall pick Owen Power, again managed to stifle Leafs superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

It was just the third time in 17 games that Matthews, who finished with four shots on goal, did not score. In three previous games against Buffalo this season, Matthews had one goal and one assist.

Marner’s 13-game point streak, during which he had 28 points, ended. The most recent game Marner did not register a point? Against Buffalo on March 13 at the Heritage Classic in Hamilton.

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Matthews, with 58 goals on the season, will continue his march toward 60 on Thursday. Matthews also will try for his 100th point, as he sits one shy.

“I think it’s pretty simple — we just didn’t play well,” Matthew said. “From the start, it just didn’t seem like we had much energy on the bench, much energy on the ice. We didn’t play up to our standard.”

Rielly assisted on both Toronto goals and has 53. That’s a career-high for Rielly, who had 52 in 2018-19.

Erik Kallgren started and was backed up by Jack Campbell, who has been dealing with a minor injury. Keefe said Campbell is tracking to start on Thursday.

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Buffalo, which got a late empty-net goal from Rasmus Asplund, scored twice in a span of less than two minutes early in the third to go up 4-1.

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Jeff Skinner got his 31st when he scored from the slot at 4:09.

At 5:43, Rasmus Dahlin had an open net after the Sabers threw the puck around and had no trouble hitting it.

The Leafs got one back at 8:53 when Alex Kerfoot’s shot got through and made it about two inches over the goal line.

The Sabers led 1-0 after the first and 2-1 after the second.

Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren scored at 2:09 of the second when he pinched in from the point and banked a shot off the pad of goalie Craig Anderson and into the net.

The game was tied 1-1 for just over seven minutes when Tage Thompson scored for the Sabers at 9:11.

Thompson beat Kallgren low on the stick side during a Buffalo power play.

That was another difference — Buffalo scored on two of four power plays, while Toronto was 0-for-5.
Kyle Okposo, with a man advantage, scored the only goal in the first.

“You leave here disappointed,” Rielly said. “It comes down to a matter of execution and compete.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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