Connolly’s OT marker leads Sabres over Leafs

Tim Connolly scored twice, including the overtime winner, as the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Friday night at the HSBC arena.

Drew Stafford also scored for Buffalo (8-1-1) while Ian White and Mikhail Grabovski responded for the Leafs.

Ryan Miller withstood a barrage of shots in the final frame as he stopped all but one of Toronto’s 16 attempts to pick up the win. He saved 33 pucks on the night.

Jonas Gustavsson, making his third straight start for the Leafs, stopped 25 shots in the loss.

The Leafs tied the game late in the third period on a Grabovski tip when all hope appeared to be lost. After Matt Stajan took a hooking penalty in the final minute, the Leafs were forced to play short-handed.

But a Tomas Kaberle point shot, after pulling the goaltender to make it five-on-five, was deflected home by Grabovski to send the game to overtime tied 2-2.

Toronto (1-7-3 but with points in three consecutive games)  held an 8-0 shot advantage over Buffalo less than five minutes into the third, but couldn’t beat Miller.

Alexei Ponikarovsky nearly tied the game after beating Miller on a rebound in front of the net, but he slid the puck through the crease and off the post.

Jason Blake almost evened the game a couple of minutes later, but his wide open cage was blocked by the 6-foot-8 frame of Tyler Myers.

Buffalo held a 2-1 lead through the second intermission in a close game.

Sabres go up

Connolly took advantage of too much Leaf passing to put Buffalo back ahead, 2-1.

After Niklas Hagman turned the puck over to Jason Pominville, the Sabre wired a perfect pass forward to Connolly. He broke in alone before snapping a low blocker-side shot past Gustavsson to take the lead.

Toronto’s goaltender prevented Buffalo from adding to its lead moments later, stopping two rebounds thanks to his agility. However, it was Gustavsson’s poor rebound control that initially led to those opportunities.

Lee Stempniak nearly had a shorthanded marker early in the second period when he was in alone on a breakaway but the Leaf forward was stymied by Miller.

Moments later Gustavsson emulated a former Leaf goaltender when he poke-checked Clarke MacArthur on a partial break.

The Swedish netminder stacked the pads and threw out the stick similar to Hall of Famer Johnny Bower’s trademark move to stop the scoring chance.

After 20 minutes the game was tied at one, with the bulk of the chances, as well as both goals, coming late.

White tied the game at one just as Toronto’s power play expired with just over a minute remaining in the first period.

A bad Buffalo clearing attempt was picked off by Kaberle, who found his defence partner open at the right point. White’s low slap-shot beat Miller and evened the score.

Leafs scored on first again

Stafford opened the scoring for Buffalo on its first two-man advantage. Connolly’s point shot ricocheted off of defenceman Mike Komisarek and glanced Gustavsson’s skate.

The puck sat in the blue ice before Stafford knocked it home to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead.

Both teams were quick off the start, but didn’t produce a lot of scoring chances, save for a couple of scrambles in front of the Leafs net.

Most of Toronto’s shots came from the perimeter and did not really test Miller.

Jiri Tlusty played in his first game of the season for Toronto after being recalled from the AHL’s Marlies. He saw 13:58 of action and had two shots on goal.

Notes: Phil Kessel did not play tonight, despite rumours that he might. At this point, he is targeted to return on Tuesday against Tampa Bay… Coming into Friday’s game, Toronto was first in the league on the power play, but last when it comes to penalty killing … Myers played in his 10th NHL game tonight, meaning that the first year of his contract kicks in. He will now reach free agency one year earlier.