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GDT: Big Game in Buffalo

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REUTERS/Doug Benz

The Leafs are hoping they won’t need heroics from Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel to pull out a win tonight.  Unfortunately, knowing how it goes in Buffalo these days, they probably will.  The Sabres rested Ryan Miller last night, politely skipping over Patrick Lalime to call up Jhonas Enroth, who then backed them to a shootout win over Montreal.  Buffalo will return home tonight in hopes of propelling themselves into a tie with Carolina for the final playoff spot (provided the Hurricanes lose to the Devils).  From a Toronto perspective, the players have to know that taking these two points from the Sabres will be monumental in preserving their playoff aspirations.  With the raucous atmosphere you get from a Leafs-Sabres tilt at the HSBC Arena and the fast paced action that normally develops, this promises be a good one (7 PM, TSN).

The Matchup Stats

Leafs fans have to be hoping that the team’s disturbing trend on Buffalo ice comes to an end soon (Sabres are 58-24-6-1 all time against the Leafs on home ice).  Even ignoring the gruesome track record Toronto has laid down at the HSBC over the last decade, this season alone saw the Leafs first wilt in a 3-1 loss in the Sabres’ house on November 26, and then fail to make an appearance in a 6-2 beating just 11 days ago.  Unless the team’s attitude is a tad more resilient this time around, they may just lose by a score of 12-4.  Seriously, this is a Buffalo squad that has scored 25 goals in their last five games and has gone 7-2-1 in their last ten games.

The loss of Derek Roy has galvanized the other leaders of this team into ramping up their effort level and consistently winning some games.  This charge has been spearheaded by some absurdly hot play by the likes of Drew Stafford, with two hat tricks in a week and 24 goals in just 37 games (a 53 goal pace).  Thomas Vanek has also reengaged himself in the offensive zone, as he is at his most effective when using his large frame and lethal hands assertively and aggressively.

Strategical Keys

The Sabres will be shooting on J.S. Giguere, who has not lost in regulation to Buffalo in the last three seasons (a 3-0-1 mark with a 1.81 GAA).  Giguere has always been a big-game goalie.  Hopefully, he is buying into his team’s drive for the playoffs and steps up accordingly in what is an extremely important game.  Regardless, he is playing for a contract and possibly to attract the interest of a contending team before the trade deadline.  Any way you cut it, you would have to think the former Conn Smythe winner will come out to play tonight.

It is quite likely Grabovski and Kessel will both be serious offensive threats tonight.  While Grabovski himself delivers a consistent level of effort and has been an impact player more often than not, Kessel is obviously more prone to the ebb and flow of a professional athlete’s confidence.  During the last stretch of his scoring, he did appear to be doubly motivated by his goal scoring race with his Belarussian teammate.  Ideally these factors will combine to spark the Leafs winger onto one of his patented hot streaks.

Gameday Quotes

Clarke MacArthur on Grabovski after last night’s hit:

“Once he got to the bench and sat down, he was fine.”

Now I know Clarke didn’t go to medical school or anything, but I’m starting to think Grabovski will be just fine.

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