Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 3
The lift the Toronto Maple Leafs so badly needed came from the American Hockey League.
Ben Scrivens had nothing to do with a franchise-worst home losing streak that doomed the team's season, but had a big hand in ending it by making 29 saves in a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
''This team was maybe a little bit fragile,'' Scrivens said. ''I just wanted to try and come in and try to make as many saves as I could and really just give these guys a chance. All the credit goes to these guys, they've had a lot of pressure on them both internally and externally.''
Scrivens won a night after making 33 saves in the Toronto Marlies' 5-4 overtime victory over Rochester in the AHL.
''You've got to focus on the task at hand,'' Scrivens said. ''Last night was Rochester, tonight was Buffalo and we'll see what happens tomorrow.''
It was the first time since Feb. 6 - a span of 11 games - the team celebrated a victory at Air Canada Centre. The ensuing 55 days saw the Leafs plummet from playoff contention, replace coach Ron Wilson with Randy Carlyle and give general manager Brian Burke plenty of reasons to look at making big changes in the offseason.
Scrivens represents an interesting option moving forward.
The 25-year-old spent time with the Leafs in November and has become one of the top AHL goalies since being sent back to the Marlies. He leads that league in goals-against average, is third in save percentage and there is hope he'll be part of a long run in the Calder Cup playoffs.
He did a nice job of handling the heat against a desperate Sabres team, getting a blocker on a 2-on-1 chance by Tyler Ennis early in the third period before stopping another shot in the dying seconds.
''He gave us a chance,'' Carlyle said. ''He stopped a 2-on-1 early in the third period and it kind of rallied everybody.''
The Sabres are two points behind eighth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference with just three games to play. The Capitals hold the tiebreaker, so Buffalo has to make up three points in the standings.
Asked after the game if he had been looking up at the out-of-town scores, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff replied: ''I was looking higher than that - for the big fellow to help out.''
There was a much better atmosphere inside Air Canada Centre than on most Leafs game nights in recent months. Rather than heckling their own team, fans had the chance to derisively chant Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller's name throughout the third period.
Miller didn't allow any soft goals but thought he could have been better.
''We scored some goals tonight, so I didn't need to be perfect,'' Miller said. ''But I needed to make another save or two.''
Playing for the second time in two nights, Buffalo wasn't able to impose itself on the fragile Leafs. The Sabres also couldn't convert on three power-play opportunities.
Crabb's short-handed goal set the tone, with the Toronto forward stealing the puck from Andrej Sekera at the blue line and beating Ryan Miller for a breakaway goal at 9:32 of the first period.
That was an important 1-0 lead, especially with Scrivens making just his ninth NHL appearance. During a callup earlier in the season, the 25-year-old struggled in particular during home starts - losing all three he made. He looked much more confident on this night and wasn't shy about coming out to challenge shooters.
There was little he could do on the play that saw the Sabres tie it at 1. Drew Stafford made a good play to drive around a defenseman and find Ennis, who roofed the shot at 10:59 of the second period.
But Kessel restored Toronto's lead less than 5 minutes later by ripping a shot past Miller for his career-best 37th goal of the season.
''It's been a while coming,'' Kessel said.
Liles made it 3-1 with a backbreaking goal that came with 0.7 seconds to play in the period. He drove hard to the net and knocked in MacArthur's rebound - a play that required video review.
That set up the most important period of the season for the Sabres, who briefly got some life after Leino shook off two defenders and beat Scrivens with a backhander at 6:48. Frattin's seventh of the season at 10:20 gave Toronto the insurance it would need when Stafford got his 20th at 17:15.
Notes: Tyler Myers sat out for the Sabres because of a foot injury ... Toronto scratched Cody Franson ... Buffalo called up defensemen Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan from the AHL and inserted them into the lineup.