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Sabres snap Leafs' club-record 13-game home winning streak with 3-2 victory

TORONTO — Looking to extend one franchise mark and set another, the Toronto Maple Leafs sat 39 points and 25 spots ahead of the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL's overall standings heading into Monday. That didn't matter to Jack Eichel.

TORONTO — Looking to extend one franchise mark and set another, the Toronto Maple Leafs sat 39 points and 25 spots ahead of the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL's overall standings heading into Monday.

That didn't matter to Jack Eichel.

The Sabres star scored his second goal of the game midway through the third period as last-place Buffalo snapped Toronto's club-record home winning streak at 13 with a 3-2 victory.

The irony of the loss for the Leafs, who were also looking to set a club record for wins in a season with 46, was that they played better against the Sabres than in Saturday's 4-3 victory at Air Canada Centre over the Detroit Red Wings.

"We had lots of good things, but then we got carried away with it and gave up some chances," Toronto head coach Mike Babcock said. "The bottom line is we did lots of good things, we didn't win the game."

Casey Nelson had the other goal for Buffalo (24-40-12). Chad Johnson made 39 saves in a surprise start to help end the Sabres' four-game slide, while Zemgus Girgensons added two assists.

Patrick Marleau, with a goal and an assist, and Nazem Kadri replied for Toronto (45-24-7), which got 24 stops from Frederik Andersen.

With a young, exciting roster, the Leafs are primed for a second consecutive spring with playoff hockey as fans once again dare to dream of an end to a 50-year Stanley Cup drought.

The Sabres, meanwhile, occupy the league's basement — the only silver lining being that finishing 31st earns them the best odds at winning next month's draft lottery for the right to select star Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin in June.

But Buffalo was game at Air Canada Centre on Monday, showing the franchise perhaps isn't as far away as some might think.

"They were pretty persistent," Kadri said. "To be honest with you, we played a pretty all-around game and had a lot of offensive opportunities. Their goaltender was good tonight. They're a resilient group.

"They stuck with it and were able to find one late."

Eichel did that at 9:36 of the third when he swept down the left side, fought of Nikita Zaitsev and slipped a backhand through Andersen's pads for his 24th goal of the season to snap a 2-2 tie.

The 21-year-old Eichel's two goals were his first since Feb. 8, a stretch that included 15 games on the shelf with a high ankle sprain.

"Jack's game all night was terrific," Buffalo head coach Phil Housley. "From start to finish, he really brought it."

After the Leafs turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead late in the second, the Sabres knotted things at 7:56 of the third when Nelson scored on a shot from the point that went off Toronto defenceman Roman Polak in front.

The Leafs challenged for goalie interference, but Nelson's third of the campaign stood after video review.

Toronto kept coming after falling behind, but Johnson, a surprise starter after Linus Ullmark suffered an upper-body injury during the morning skate, was there time and again as the Leafs suffered their first loss at home since Jan. 22.

"He's a pro," Housley said of Johnson, who improved to 7-1-1 all-time against Toronto. "He got an opportunity on short notice and did a terrific job. 

"He was our best player, by far."

Down 1-0 after the visitors grabbed an early lead, the Leafs had a number of chances to get even before Kadri finally broke through with 2:29 remaining in the second.

Marleau dislodged the puck from Buffalo defenceman Marco Scandella behind the net on the forecheck before Mitch Marner fed a quick pass in front to Kadri, who beat Johnson to give him back-to-back 30-goal seasons.

Kadri scored 32 times in 2016-17, and has eight goals in the last six games at Air Canada Centre. Marner, meanwhile, has assists in eight straight games as part of an run of 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in nine outings.

The Sabres were assessed a high-sticking penalty on the ensuing faceoff — the game's only infraction — and Marleau banged home a loose puck in the crease on the ensuing power play at 18:42 after Auston Matthews took the initial shot.

Andersen, who was looking to set a new career high with his 36th win of the season, stretched to make a terrific pad save on Jordan Nolan on a 2-on-1 earlier in the period off a feed from Eichel to keep the Leafs down by one.

After the Leafs had two great early chances, the Sabres turned the tide and grabbed the lead at 3:23 of the first.

Eichel pressured Matthews into a turnover in the corner in the Toronto zone before taking a feed from Girgensons and beating Andersen with a quick move to the forehand.

"They've got good players and they're getting more good players," Babcock said of the Sabres. "They're just getting better and better and it'll be tougher.

"Obviously, we carried the play and all that stuff, but in the end, we didn't win."


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press