With the season on the line and down by one, the Sabres settled in for a faceoff to the left of Toronto Maple Leafs rookie goaltender Ben Scrivens.
With just over two minutes to play in the third period and the culmination of 79-games and an entire season hanging in the balance, the puck dropped and squirted into the corner.
Rookie forward Marcus Foligno took advantage of an instigating Mike Komisarek who tried to jostle with the youngster, by side-stepping the distracted defender, grabbing the puck and powering his way to the front of the net, “I kind of gave a little fake hit and he kind of fell for it and he fell down,” Foligno said of the play, “I realized I had space to go to the net.”
What ensued was a pile of humanity that resembled more of a rugby scrum than the final minutes of a hockey game with playoff implications on the line, “Then I got tackled and Komisarek just kept punching me in the face, but it’s one of those beatings you got to take and we were rewarded for it,” Foligno added.
Aside from Ryan Miller, everyone on the ice crashed the front of the Leafs net doing whatever it took to find the puck. Bodies sprawled as; punching, slashing, clutching and grabbing embodied the chaos that seemed like it would never end.
Then, Jordan Leopold, who joined the skirmish from his point found the puck and jammed it into the net to end the mini mob and tie the game at five, “I had no idea where the puck was, I just took a stab at it,” Leopold said, “It ended up hitting my stick and pushing it in so, hey big goal at a big time.”
The much maligned Derek Roy sniped his second goal of the night and 17th of the season in overtime to send the dejected Leafs back up the QEW with a 6-5 loss and keep the Sabres playoff hopes alive, “It’s great to help my team win a hockey game,” Roy said post-game, “We need this, doesn’t matter how tired you are, if you’re sore or hurting whatever, just put that aside and go out there and win a hockey game.”
The overtime goal came on the power play as the product of a horrible decision by the Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf, who shot the puck out of play in his own end resulting in a delay-of-game penalty.
Despite allowing the Leafs to jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, the Sabres showed the kind of grit and focus that it takes to be an NHL playoff club.
The intensity in the first period was seemingly absent from everyone in the blue and gold except Foligno. The rookie was hitting everything that moved and added a great scrap with forward Matt Frattin to try and spark the team after falling behind early, “As a young guy I just got to keep doing what I am doing,” Foligno said.
The Sabres climbed to within one, potting the only two goals of the second period. The first came on the power play when Alexander Sulzer faked a slap shot and rifled a cross-ice pass onto the tape of Tyler Ennis, who made no mistake on burying the wide-open chance.
Sulzer (2 G, 1 A), seemingly a throw-in of the trade that brought Cody Hodgson to Buffalo from Vancouver, stepped up big time to help save the season. In the absence of defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers, the German potted his first of two on the night to bring the score to 3-2.
The two teams traded goals twice in the third period as former Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur scored first to open the period, but Roy responded for the Sabres with his first of the night, on a shot from the point on the power play.
Jake Gardiner put the Leafs back up by two, but with their backs against the wall, the Sabres offensive- minded defense helped to knot the game as the final two goals of regulation were scored by Sulzer and Leopold.
Lost in the back-and-forth excitement was the mediocre play of goaltender Ryan Miller who gave up a few weak goals for the second straight game. Although he made a couple spectacular saves, Miller has needed his team to pick him up in their last two efforts.
Should the Sabres have any chance at completing this improbable playoff run, Miller will need to be the catalyst in their final two contests against the third highest scoring attack in the Eastern Conference in Philadelphia (260-goals) and Boston who ranks just ahead of them, with 262-goals on the season.
Moving forward, the Sabres are currently tied with Washington at 88-points with 2-games left to play, but the Capitals own the tie-breaker in Regulation Wins + Overtime Wins, so the Sabres need to finish a point ahead to take the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Sabres can also catch the Florida Panthers by winning out and Florida losing its final 2-games against Washington and Carolina, because both teams would finish with 92-points and Buffalo holds the tie-breaker over them.
Florida, who currently has 92-points, is the Southeastern Division leader and will attempt to solidify their hold on the division and a playoff spot on Thursday night in Washington D.C., while the Sabres are in Philadelphia attempting to build off the momentum from the huge win against the Leafs.
When it’s all said and done, the Sabres need to win both of their last two games to have the most control over their own destiny, however a loss to Philadelphia Thursday doesn’t necessarily mean they are statistically eliminated either.
The last thing the Sabres need is for both Washington and Florida to net a point in the game by playing for overtime, but should that happen the Sabres still aren’t automatically eliminated.
Despite there being three teams contending for the final two spots with only two games left in the Eastern Conference schedule, there are still a ridiculous amount of possibilities and outcomes from each scenario.
Check out Buffalo broadcaster Brad Riter’s breakdown of the Sabres playoff scenarios here: