New addition O'Reilly sparks Leafs in 6-3 win over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Newly acquired center Ryan O’Reilly scored twice on Toronto’s first two shots on net and added an empty-net goal in the Maple Leafs' 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Playing his third game in four nights since being traded to Toronto by St. Louis, O’Reilly scored 37 seconds apart in an opening period the Maple Leafs led 4-0 on goals scored in a span of 8:18. O’Reilly added two assists and sealed the win with the first five-point outing of his career by scoring into an empty net with 1:10 remaining — and after the Sabres scored three times to cut Toronto's lead to 5-3.
O'Reilly's new linemates got in on the fun, with captain John Tavares scoring and adding three assists, and Mitchell Marner setting up five goals.
Michael Bunting and William Nylander also scored in a game played before a large contingent of “Go, Leafs! Go!”-chanting, blue-and-white clad fans making the trip across the border.
Ilya Samsonov, who didn’t face his first shot until halfway through the first period, finished with 29 saves. He stopped the first 22 shots he faced before getting beaten three times in the final 14:48.
Alex Tuch, with the 100th goal of his career, Jack Quinn and Jeff Skinner scored for Buffalo in a game the Sabres trailed 5-0 through two periods.
Buffalo’s Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen allowed four goals on 10 shots before being yanked after getting beaten on the short side by Bunting 12:09 in. Struggling in his bid to win a three-way goalie competition, Luukonen has allowed 19 goals in dropping to 1-3-1 in his last five starts. He was replaced by Craig Anderson, who finished allowing one goal on 18 shots.
O’Reilly's offensive outburst came in a homecoming for the two-way center, who spent two seasons playing for the Sabres before being traded to St. Louis in July 2018.
The playoff MVP for the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning Blues opened the scoring 3:51 in by snapping in Marner’s centering pass into the open left side of the net. Set up by Marner again, O’Reilly broke in alone and backhanded a shot, beating Luukkonen on the short side 37 seconds later.
Tavares then made it 3-0 at 7:14 by converting a loose puck after a shot by Marner from the right circle was blocked in front.
O’Reilly’s addition has led to Tavares shifting to play the wing.
Coach Sheldon Keefe sees the move as easing the load from the 32-year-old Tavares, and having him fresh for the playoffs.
Tavares said he’s still adapting to playing more along the wall, with O’Reilly getting accustomed to how Tavares and Marner play off each other. “Try not to overcomplicate it, but obviously a good opportunity for me,” Tavares said before the game.
Tavares noted he has not played wing since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, when he was on a line centered by Ryan Getzlaf and rounded out by Steven Stamkos.
BY THE NUMBERS
In earning their 78th point, the Maple Leafs (35-15-8) matched a franchise record for points through their first 58 games of a season and set last year, when they were 37-16-5. ... The Sabres have been outscored 18-6 in losing their past three home games. Buffalo is 17-8-2 on the road, but fell to 11-15-2 at home. ... Nylander extended his points streak to five games (four goals, five assists).
Maple Leafs: Host the Minnesota Wild on Friday before departing for five-game trip.
Sabres: Travel to play Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press