Toronto Maple Leafs fall short at Heritage Classic vs. Buffalo Sabres
By Neil Becker
Following the Toronto Maple Leafs Heritage Classic game against the Buffalo Sabres, a topic of much debate was not surprisingly Auston Matthews.
Usually, after games fans and media are buzzing about Matthew’s multi-goal performances but on this particular Sunday afternoon at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, the talk following a 5-2 loss was about his third-period cross-check to the head of Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin which earned the star a hearing on Monday.
Prior to that exchange with Dahlin by the Sabres net, Matthews was once again money as he scored in the second period his league-leading 45th goal, which was followed by some MVP chants from Leafs fans in attendance as they enjoyed what would be a temporary 2-1 lead.
Unfortunately for the die-hard Leafs fans braving the elements, there wasn’t much to cheer about afterwards as Buffalo from that point on shut out the Leafs explosive offense while scoring four of their own to pull out the 5-2 win in front of approximately 26,119 enthusiastic freezing fans.
Matthews, who had five shots on goal, found himself in the middle of some third-period controversy when shortly after Buffalo made it 4-2, he exchanged some vicious cross-checks in the Sabres crease with Dahlin. Frustration boiled over with Matthews who proceeded to cross-check the defenceman in the neck/head area earning him that already mentioned Monday hearing with the NHL.
The Leafs who were booed at Scotiabank Arena following a 5-1 loss on March 2nd to the Sabres continued this chapter of their QEW rivalry with veteran Petr Mrazek in the net. Looking to redeem himself after being pulled in the last game against the Arizona Coyotes, Mrazek struggled on a couple of third-period goals as he ended up making 33 saves on 37 shots. An alarming trend has seen him surrender four goals in four straight games which won’t get you far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On this particular afternoon, the Leafs were decked out not in their traditional blue and white uniforms, but rather dark blue uniforms in paying tribute to the Toronto Arenas who played from 1917-1919 before the franchise would eventually become the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Prior to the Heritage Classic opening face-off, Team Canada Women’s hockey gold medal winners were introduced and received a huge ovation. Not surprisingly one of the biggest cheers went to Hamilton resident Sarah Nurse.
Looking for a bounce-back performance, Mrazek was perfect in the first as he made a bold statement by making 14 saves which included a pair of breakaways from Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin as it remained scoreless heading to the second period.
Leafs forward Ondrej Kase would open the scoring when 40 seconds in he banged home his 12th goal off a rebound from a William Nylander shot for that all-important 1-0 lead.
Showing tremendous resiliency, it only took Buffalo 41 seconds to make it a new game as forward Peyton Krebs scored his fifth goal to tie things up. Assisting on that goal was Sabres forward Vinnie Hinostroza who would go on to score a couple of goals in what was a three-point game to remember.
Continuing his rapid scoring pace, Matthews, who earlier had been robbed by Sabres goalie Craig Anderson’s catching glove, came through this time when after receiving a pass from Alex Kerfoot, he beat Anderson with a wrister for his 45th goal which at the 2:57 mark.
Toronto’s one-goal lead wouldn’t last long as the Sabres got even when Hinostroza scored his ninth and first of two which came with a little over nine minutes remaining in what would be a 2-2 game after 40 minutes of regulation.
Anderson, who recently won his 300th career game sure didn’t look 40 years old as he made countless strong saves as Toronto fired 18 second-period shots on goal.
Hinostroza would remain red hot as he would score his 10th a little past the five-minute mark of the third on truth be told a weak goal that squeezed through Mrazek’s arm and the post. The fourth goal, which was Krebs second of the game, came at the 13:49 mark and was also a weak goal which after a video review stood for Buffalo.
Rounding out the scoring was Buffalo’s breakout forward Tage Thompson who with a little under two and a half -minutes remaining scored in an empty net to seal a second straight Sabres win against their rivals the Leafs.
In a weird but true stat, the Leafs who are home and cooled out to make the playoffs are in a stretch which have seen them go 2-4 against non-playoff teams.
The Leafs will next see action on Tuesday, March 15th when they face off at Scotiabank Area at 7:00 p.m. against the Dallas Stars.
2nd. Period TOR-BUF
0:40 Ondrej Kase (12) 1 – 0
William Nylander (32), John Tavares (36)
1:22 Peyton Krebs (5) 1 – 1
Vinnie Hinostroza (11), Robert Hagg (11)
2:57 Auston Matthews (45) 2 – 1
Alex Kerfoot (33), T.J. Brodie (16)
10:53 Vinnie Hinostroza (9) 2 – 2
Tage Thompson (20), Mattias Samuelsson (3)
5:16 Vinnie Hinostroza (10) 2 – 3
13:49 Peyton Krebs (6) 2 – 4
Dylan Cozens (19), Kyle Okposo (20)
17:35 EN SHG- Tage Thompson (24) 2 – 5