Where Else Would Leafs Streak End?

By HOWARD BERGER

BUFFALO (Jan. 14) – Friday the 13th and a game at First Niagara Center wasn’t exactly a prime combination for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who wore their new alternate jerseys on the road for the first time and coughed up their initial match of 2012 in the City of Nightmares.

If I hadn’t seen it in person, I still wouldn’t believe that Toronto beat Buffalo, 2-1, here on Feb. 16 of last season. Friday night’s loss dropped the Leafs all-time record in western New York to 26-58-8; Leafs are 14-31-1 overall against the Sabres since the owners’ lockout of 2004-05. Incredibly – and only the Sabres’ crack P.R. staff would know this – Buffalo has not lost the home portion of back-to-back games with the Maple Leafs since Dec. 20, 1970, when the clubs met for the second time ever in this city, at the old Memorial Auditorium. It was the Sabres’ first year in the NHL and Leafs captured both ends of a consecutive-night engagement – the first, a 2-0 shut-out win for the legendary Jacques Plante at Maple Leaf Gardens.

There was nothing at all legendary about 93rd meeting between the Leafs and Sabres in this city – the visitors unable to overcome unlucky bounces on Buffalo’s first two goals (Friday the 13th?), falling behind by a pair only 3:53 into the game. Otherwise, the Leafs played fairly well while having their four-game win streak snapped and will attempt to begin another one later tonight when the New York Rangers arrive at the Air Canada Centre after watching Friday night’s match from the comfort of their Toronto hotel rooms.

Rangers have been at or near the top of the overall National Hockey League standings in the New Year, but they lost both games this season against the Leafs at Madison Square Garden (by 4-2 scores, Oct. 27 and Dec. 5). So, John Tortorella and Co. will likely be fuelled with a bit of vengeance when the puck drops around 7:15 at the ACC.

Here, now, my photo-review of the Leafs and Sabres on Friday:

AFTER A BLIZZARD ROARED THROUGH BUFFALO ON THURSDAY NIGHT AND HALF OF FRIDAY, THE WEATHER HAD CLEARED (ABOVE) TWO HOURS BEFORE GAME TIME.

HOLY KARMA-CHAMELEON! YOU HAVE TO LOVE YOUR TEAM TO COME DRESSED LIKE BOY GEORGE FOR A LEAFS GAME IN THIS CITY… OR ANY CITY, FOR THAT MATTER.

LEAF STARTERS (ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT) JOEY CRABB, NIK KULEMIN, KEITH AULIE, MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI AND DION PHANEUF STAND AT ATTENTION FOR ANTHEMS.

REFEREE STEVE KOZARI DROPS PUCK (ABOVE) TO BEGIN THE HOCKEY GAME BETWEEN GRABOVSKI AND BUFFALO CENTRE DEREK ROY.

OCCASIONALLY, A PICTURE IS WORTH THE SO-CALLED “THOUSAND WORDS”: LEAFS GOALIE JONAS GUSTAVSSON PROPELLS PUCK FROM HIS NET IN DISGUST (ABOVE) AFTER THE SABRES HAD OPENED THE SCORING JUST 1:05 INTO THE GAME WHEN MATT ELLIS BANKED IN A PASS OFF DEFENSEMAN CODY FRANSON – THE FIRST-YEAR LEAF GLANCING AT JUBILANT BUFFALO PLAYERS AS IF TO SAY “THANKS A LOT!”

JUST 2:48 LATER, PAUL GAUSTAD OF THE SABRES RAISES ARMS (ABOVE RIGHT) AFTER HIS SHOT FROM THE RIGHT-WING SIDE HIT LEAFS DEFENSEMAN CARL GUNNARSSON (36) AND CHANGED DIRECTION ON GUSTAVSSON, GIVING BUFFALO AN EARLY 2-0 LEAD.

WHILE THE FIRST NIAGARA CENTER ICE-MAINTENANCE CREW DOES ITS THING, GUSTAVSSON TAKES A BREATHER (ABOVE AND BELOW) TO COLLECT HIS THOUGHTS, SURELY WONDERING ABOUT THE PAIR OF TRICKY BOUNCES THAT ELUDED HIM.

IT WASN’T MUCH OF A BREATHER, AS BUFFALO’S DEREK ROY CAME CLOSE TO MAKING IT 3-0 FOR THE HOME TEAM (ABOVE) SECONDS LATER.

LEAFS BEGAN TO BOUNCE BACK WHEN GRABOVSKI (ABOVE LEFT) BEAT SABRES’ RYAN MILLER FROM CLOSE IN AT 14:06 OF THE OPENING FRAME, AND WAS MOBBED BY HIS TEAMMATES (BELOW).

MILLER AND DEFENSEMAN TYLER MYERS WERE ALL TANGLED UP (ABOVE) AFTER JOEY CRABB TOOK A NIFTY FEED FROM GRABOVSKI AND KNOTTED THE COUNT AT 16:52 OF THE FIRST PERIOD. IT WOULD BE LEAFS FINAL GOAL OF THE NIGHT.

THE BUSIEST MAN IN SPORTS BROADCASTING – AND ARGUABLY THE MOST PLEASANT – TSN’S CHRIS CUTHBERT (ABOVE) IN HIS BOOTH AT FIRST NIAGARA CENTER ON FRIDAY. IF HE WERE AN AMERICAN BROADCASTER, HE’D BE A LIVING LEGEND BY NOW; WE, IN CANADA, TEND NOT TO CELEBRATE OUR OWN IN SUCH FASHION.

“PARDON ME.” SABRES CAPTAIN JASON POMINVILLE (ABOVE) RETRIEVES HIS STICK BESIDE LEAFS FORWARD NAZEM KADRI.

LEAFS DEFENSEMAN LUKE SCHENN (ABOVE AND BELOW) HAS BEEN THE SUBJECT OF INTENSE TRADE RUMOR THE PAST FEW DAYS, WITH PHILADELPHIA’S JAMES VAN RIEIMSDYK (NOW SIDELINED WITH A CONCUSSION) A POTENTIAL GRAB FOR THE BLUE & WHITE. BUT, GENERAL MANAGER BRIAN BURKE TOLD REPORTERS PRIOR TO FRIDAY’S GAME HERE THAT SUCH SPECULATION IS INACCURATE AND HE IS NOT “SHOPPING” SCHENN, THOUGH HE ADDED THE OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER THAT THE SITUATION COULD CHANGE AT A MOMENT’S NOTICE.

GRABOVSKI IS IN POSITION FOR A REBOUND (ABOVE) – THE PUCK (BLUR BESIDE HIS LEFT SKATE) SAILING WIDE ON A SHOT FROM THE POINT.

LEAFS AND SABRES APPEAR TO BE IN A CAGE (ABOVE), AS MY POSITION IN THE PRESS BOX NECESSITATED SHOOTING PHOTOS THROUGH THE PROTECTIVE MESH IN BACK OF THE VISITORS’ GOAL.

RYAN MILLER GLOVES A SHOT FROM INSIDE THE POINT ABOVE), AS JOFFREY LUPUL (19) AWAITS POTENTIAL REBOUND – LUPUL ONE GOAL SHY OF THE 20 PLATEAU.

BANNER (ABOVE) COMMEMORATION THE DONUT EMPEROR AND, ARGUABLY, BEST DEFENSEMAN IN LEAFS HISTORY, WHO DIED IN A CAR CRASH AS A MEMBER OF THE SABRES IN FEBRUARY 1974. AND THOUGH BUFFALO (WITH MVP DOMINIK HASEK) PLAYED IN THE 1999 STANLEY CUP FINAL LOSING TO DALLAS), I STILL CONTEND THE CLUB DEPICTED IN THE BANNERS BELOW WAS BEST IN TEAM HISTORY – LED BY THE FAMED “FRENCH CONNECTION” UNIT OF GILBERT PERREAULT, RENE ROBERT AND THE LATE RICHARD MARTIN. SABRES WERE SINGLE-HANDEDLY THWARTED BY PHILADELPHIA GOALIE BERNIE PARENT IN THE ’75 CHAMPIONSHIP.

REFEREE KOZARI KEEPS MILLER COMPANY (ABOVE) IN THE SECOND PERIOD.

LEAFS TV GURU PAUL HENDRICK ATTENDS TO HIS “CRACK”-BERRY (ABOVE) IN THE PRESS BOX, WHILE FORMER FLAMES AND WILD GM DOUG RISEBROUGH – A PESKY FORWARD ON MONTREAL’S CUP DYNASTY OF THE LATE-70s; NOW SCOUTING FOR THE RANGERS – STANDS IN THE BACKGROUND.

SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON HAPPY SABRES (ABOVE) AFTER POMINVILLE SCORED AT 14:13 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME TO PUT THE HOME TEAM BACK IN FRONT, 3-2. IT WAS THE LAST GOAL OF THE NIGHT.

KOZARI DROPS PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN BRAD BOYES AND MATT LOMBARDI TO BEGIN THE SCORELESS THIRD PERIOD – TV LIGHTS REFLECTING BELOW) OFF THE FRESHLY RE-SURFACED (BUT WELL-GROOVED) ICE AT THE FIRST NIAGARA CENTER.

MOMENTS LATER (ABOVE), POMINVILLE BACKHANDS THE PUCK AWAY FROM LEAFS DEFENSEMAN CARL GUNNARSSON.

FROM FAR CORNER OF THE PRESS BOX (ABOVE AND BELOW), WE SEE THIRD-PERIOD ACTION ON THE ICE, AND THE PENALTY-BOX SIDE OF FIRST NIAGARA CENTER, SOLD OUT FOR THE 19th CONSECUTIVE TIME ON FRIDAY.

LEAFS ROOKIE DEFENSEMAN JAKE GARDINER (ABOVE) STANDS DURING FINAL PERIOD IN PRESS BOX, SEEMINGLY OBLIVIOUS TO POINT BEING MADE BY TEAMMATE JAY ROSEHILL. GARDINER WAS A HEALTHY SCRATCH FOR THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE GAME.

GIANT SABRES LOGO AT BOTTOM OF ARENA SCOREBOARD HOVERS OVER THE RINK (ABOVE) AS DEREK ROY CLEANLY BEATS NIK KULEMIN TO A THIRD-PERIOD DRAW. A STROBE-LIGHT ILLUMINATES ACTION (BELOW) AROUND THE TORONTO NET.

RON WILSON CALLED TIME OUT (ABOVE) IN THE FINAL MINUTE OF PLAY, AND HIS TEAM THEN PRESSURED THE BUFFALO GOAL (BELOW) WITH GUSTAVSSON ON THE BENCH FOR AN EXTRA ATTACKER.

SABRES HUNG ON FOR THE WIN, AND LEAF PLAYERS LEFT THE ICE DEJECTEDLY (ABOVE) AFTER THEIR FIRST DEFEAT OF 2012.

FANS OF BOTH TEAMS LEAVE FIRST NIAGARA CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW) – MY CAMERA-FLASH ILLUMINATING THE UBIQUITOUS SNOW-FLAKES HERE.

THE WAY HOME (ABOVE) FOR FANS OF THE MAPLE LEAFS.

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