The unofficial anointing of John Tavares day in Toronto after the over zealous fans of Long Island’s frigid reception Thursday, set the stage for the Leafs 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Arena Saturday night.
The hometown club re-arranged the pregame introductions allowing Tavares to be announced last to give the pumped up crowd a chance to show 91 how much they appreciate him. They didn’t disappoint with a standing ovation similar to the deafening one Mike Weir received a day after winning the Masters 16 years ago. Outside of a malfunction with the end glass and netting, the rousing ovation would have carried into the game. As it stood the 10-minute delay cooled the building, but a few minutes later Tavares had them out of their seats again banging in the opening goal. His fist pump put an explanation point on the whole process and the faithful followers were ecstatic.
The Leafs had a Goldilocks type game, not too hot, not too cold, but just the right amount of energy, solid goaltending from Frederik Andersen, and the game winner from trade-deadline acquisition Nic Petan.
Buffalo coming off a 4-3 OT victory the previous night over Pittsburgh put up a spirited effort but this one belonged to Toronto who wouldn’t be denied after the dismal outing against the Islanders.
They played with more heart and physicality, thwarting any attempted pressure the Sabres managed to muster against a depleted blue-line with injuries to Dermott and Gardiner. Tavares had a 3-point night as did his line mate Mitch Marner while Reilly and Zaitsev rounded out the scoring.
It was a much needed relief game to put the wheels back on track and certainly necessary to maintain pace with division co-harts the Boston Bruins who defeated New Jersey 1-0 at TD Gardens.
The dreaded nightmare of facing the Bruins without home-ice lingers as these two appear on a collision course for a first round match-up. Leafs Nation as a whole continue to collectively hold its breath and with just 17-matches remaining, praying the dice tumble the right way at seasons end.
There is, once again, no time to ponder the past with the Western Conference leading Calgary Flames up next on the docket; the Leafs head out towards the left coast with stops in Alberta on Monday, Vancouver Wednesday, and back for a Saturday dance with the Edmonton Oilers.
Overall it was encouraging to see the team respond with a gritty effort to re-enforce the confidence among the club who’ve been pushed around the last month. Should be an exciting stretch drive.