TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs tied a franchise record for the fewest shots allowed in a game, and their offence eventually came to life in a 4-0 rout of the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre.
The Sabres finished with just 10 shots, and Jonathan Bernier stopped all of them for his eighth career NHL shutout.
Asked if that was his easiest shutout, Bernier said, “Probably, yeah.”
The Leafs allowed 10 shots just once before in franchise history, Jan. 5, 2002 against the Ottawa Senators.
In this game Buffalo goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped the first 28 shots he faced before the dam burst. Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk scored three goals within a span of seven minutes, and Jake Gardiner added another, to improve Toronto’s home record to 2-4-0 this season.
The shot differential of 27 (37-10) was by far the largest of the season for the Leafs (4-4-1).
The total of 10 shots was the lowest in franchise history for the Sabres (2-8-0).
The Leafs’ onslaught began early as Joffrey Lupul hit the cross bar seven minutes in. Not long after, Peter Holland was hooked on a short-handed breakaway, and van Riemsdyk hit the post behind Neuvirth on the same play.
A five-on-three power play for 1:09 yielded more passes on the perimeter than shots, and Neuvirth made two big stops on Nazem Kadri at the end of the five-on-four portion.
Neuvirth kept the Leafs off the board with save after save until the Sabres’ parade to the penalty box eventually cost them. With Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno off for kneeing Nazem Kadri on a play that briefly sent Dion Phaneuf out of the game, the Leafs finally broke through.
A little over a minute later, Kessel threaded a perfect pass to Bozak at the blue-line, and the centre was in all alone. Bozak shot high glove on Neuvirth to make it 1-0 Leafs with 49.6 seconds left in the second period.
It was the Leafs’ first power-play goal since Oct. 12.
As good as Neuvirth was for the game’s first two periods, he gave up a bad one to Kessel 4:18 into the second. Santorelli cycled it to the star winger behind the net, and Kessel banked it in off the goaltender from way below the goal line to make it 2-0.
Exactly a minute later, Buffalo’s defence was nowhere to be found as Morgan Rielly, stationed in the corner, found van Riemsdyk at the other side of the net for a tap-in to make it a 3-0 lead.
For good measure, Gardiner scored on a wrap-around at 9:17 of the third to turn this into a rout.