BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the end, Steve Ott had the last laugh.
The Buffalo Sabres' agitator was his usual pesky self against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. At times, that got the best of him -- like when he received a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for blowing a kiss to Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf -- but his physicality and scoring touch led the Sabres to a wild 5-4 shootout victory over the Leafs at the First Niagara Center. Ott scored the deciding goal in the sixth round of the shootout to put the Sabres on top for good.
"Since I've been here, he's brought the same thing -- he brings a lot of energy to the team," Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said. "Especially just the grit he plays with on a consistent basis for us, (he) provides a lot of energy for our players on the bench and he can be put out in all situations. He's been key in faceoff situations, he's been key penalty kill and power play and obviously tonight in the shootout."
Ott, an unlikely participant in the shootout, was chosen when the shootout went into the sixth round. He raced down the ice on his breakaway attempt, beating Toronto goalie James Reimer on a backhand deke.
"He's playing great right now," Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. "You can't say enough about him. He's a wrecking ball, and we all knew in the shootout he was going to do that move. He just skates as fast as he can and beats the goalie backwards skating. The goalie can't keep up with his speed going forward. It was a smart move by him."
Toronto had a chance to extend the shootout into a seventh round but Clarke MacArthur's backhand attempt was stopped by Miller.
Foligno, Christian Ehrhoff, Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis scored in regulation for the Sabres, who improved to 12-15-4. Miller had 30 saves.
Nazem Kadri had three points for the second game in a row for the Leafs (two goals, one assist), and Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak also scored for Toronto (16-12-3). Reimer had 32 saves in a losing effort.
But it was quite the night for Ott, who had a hand in just about every aspect of the game. The game got off to a combative start, with simultaneous fights -- Colton Orr against Patrick Kaleta and John Scott against Frazer McClaren -- 2:09 into the first period. Orr was tossed from the game for his actions leading up to the fights.
Shortly after the fights, Ott leveled Grabovski with a clean hit in the Toronto zone.
Ott and Dion Phaneuf looked to be the next to drop the gloves a few minutes later, but Ott received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his kiss gesture toward Phaneuf -- and the Leafs made the Sabres pay.
Toronto got on the board on the ensuing power play on Bozak's ninth goal of the season. Bozak received a pass from Nikolai Kulemin inside the left circle and fired a wrist shot past Miller at 8:48.
"I guess you're not allowed to blow guys kisses on the ice," Ott said. "I'll stick those kisses back and keep them in my mouth."
Kadri increased Toronto's lead to two goals just over a minute later on a tip-in in front of the Buffalo net. It was Kadri's 12th goal of the season for the Leafs.
Ott made amends for his earlier penalty by helping the Sabres get on the board before the end of the first period. Skating behind the end line, Ott found a wide-open Ennis in front of the net and Ennis cut Toronto's lead to 2-1 with 1:06 left in the first.
The Maple Leafs got their two-goal lead back 11:08 into the second period. Shortly after another penalty on Ott expired, Grabovski tipped home Jake Gardiner's shot from the point to make it 3-1.
The Sabres erased that lead, however, in a span of 45 seconds later in the period. Foligno's third of the season made it 3-2 at 11:39, and Pominville tied the game at the 12:24 mark after a great feed from Cody Hodgson with a wrist shot high to Reimer's glove side.
Ehrhoff gave the Sabres their first lead of the game 22 seconds into the third period. Buffalo opened up the period on the power play, and Ehrhoff's blast from the point made it 4-3 in Buffalo's favor.
The Leafs tied it at 4-4 6:33 into the third on Kadri's second goal of the night, setting up Ott's heroics in the shootout.
After a strong start to the season, Toronto is now 1-3-3 in its last seven games but the Maple Leafs aren't panicking yet. They currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference with 35 points.
"It's not great that we're not winning games, but at the same time we're getting points," Reimer said. "If things aren't going your way and you're still getting points, that's the best of a worst-case scenario. Obviously you want to be putting up more wins but if we can fight and scrape for points, that's pretty good for being in a downturn."
"You can't get too high when you win (shootouts), you can't get too low when you lose 'em," Bozak said. "We're happy to get one point here."
The Sabres, meanwhile, are beginning to show some signs of consistency under Rolston. Buffalo has won two in a row and 10 of Buffalo's last 12 games have been decided by one goal.
"That's character, absolutely," Ott said. "Every single game's close. That means something's going right for us ... and now we're starting to reap some rewards."
NOTES: The Leafs were without forward Joffrey Lupul, who missed the game as part of a two-game suspension. Lupul was suspended earlier on Thursday for his hit to the head of Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman Wednesday night. The forward recently returned after missing much of the season with a broken arm. ... Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek missed the game with a lower-body injury. Vanek was hit by a shot from Christian Ehrhoff in Tuesday's win over Montreal. He could return to the ice on Friday. ... Michael Kostka and Ryan Hamilton were scratched by the Maple Leafs. Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Sekera were scratched by the Sabres. ... This was the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season. Toronto won two of the three previous games prior to Thursday's matchup. ... This was the 188th game all-time between Buffalo and Toronto; heading into Thursday night's game, Buffalo led the series 103-61-23
By Mark Ludwiczak, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: March 21, 2013 11:42:11 PM
Ott's heroics carry Sabres to shootout win over Maple Leafs
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