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After trouncing the Bruins 5-1 in Toronto, and then 10-2 in Boston in back-to-back games to start off the New Year (and the 2nd half of their season), the Leafs return home to the Air Canada Center Saturday night to face the Eastern Conference leading Buffalo Sabres. (7:00PM ET, CBC)
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Alexander Steen, finally starting to find the twine as of late, scored 3 goals for his first career hattrick and added 2 assists for a career high 5-Point night.
Other Leafs had big nights as well, namely Bates Battaglia who scored 2 goals, the struggling Matt Stajan who added in 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 Points, and call-up Boyd Devereaux, with 3 assists.Paul Maurice said:''There has never been a doubt about his talent. There were questions about other parts of his game, but he has worked hard to improve those.''
Kris Newbury and Chad Kilger also scored for the Leafs, along with Center Johnny Pohl. Pohl seems to have found a spot for himself in the Toronto line-up, his play as of late likely ensuring so. His 3 Points in the game (1G, 2A) have given him 10 Points in his last 9 games (4G, 6A).
Mats Sundin continues to lead the team in Points with 39 in 35 games played (18G, 21A) including 18 in his last 9 games.
Maple Leafs Winger Darcy Tucker, who leads the team in Goals with 19 in 39 games, missed Thursday's game in Boston with his injured foot being too swollen to fit into his skate. Toronto was also again without Centermen Kyle Wellwood and Michael Peca, and Winger Alexei Ponikarovsky. Wellwood is probable to start against the Sabres tonight.
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Bates Battaglia emphasized the need for the call-ups and grinders on the team with less ice-time to continue to step up in the absence of the injured Leafs.
Goaltender Andrew Raycroft was again solid in net, stopping 29 of 31 of shots against his former club. He is now 17-12-4 and has a 2.98 Goals Against Average and .897 Save Percentage after 33 games played.Bates Battaglia said:''We have to take advantage of the ice time we get with the guys out of the lineup. Everybody needs to contribute.''
The Leafs, who were 1 point behind Boston for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, are now ahead of them by 3 Points, and have a 19-17-5 record for 44 Points after 42 games.
The Sabres lead the Leafs by a whopping 17 points for 1st in the Northeast Division and the Eastern Conference.
Buffalo is coming off of 2 straight losses, but for the most part are seeming to win find their game again, winning 4 in a row before the losses to Ottawa (their 3rd of the season to the Senators) and Pittsburgh (the first loss at home to the Penguins since November of 2003).
Recently returning Buffalo defenceman, Henrik Tallinder, will tonight's game due to an ankle injury (2 weeks)
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Sophomore Thomas Vanek continues to lead the team in Goals with 22 in 41 games, and Daniel Briere continues to lead the team in points with 47 in 41 games (15G, 32A).
Goaltender Ryan Miller is 21-6-2 after 30 games played, and has a 2.66 Goals against Average and .915 save Percentage for the 29-8-3 Sabres team.
Tonight's game is the 3rd of 8 meetings between the two clubs, with Toronto winning the first 4-1 in Buffalo, and the Sabres winning the second 7-4, again at the HSBC Arena.