TORONTO (AP) — John Tavares had a goal and two assists on a night Toronto fans dubbed “TavaresDayTO,” and the Maple Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 Saturday.
Mitch Marner also had a goal and two assists, and Morgan Rielly, Nic Petan and Nikita Zaitsev each scored as the Maple Leafs won for the fourth time in five games. Frederik Andersen made 35 saves.
Jason Pominville and Conor Sheary scored for Buffalo, and Linus Ullmark stopped 27 shots.
The Leafs were back at Scotiabank Arena after losing 6-1 to the Islanders on Thursday night that both snapped their three-game winning streak, and spoiled what was already a tough return to Long Island for Tavares. The Islanders’ former captain was vigorously booed and serenaded with chants of “We Don’t Need You.”
The nasty reception prompted Leafs fans to declare Saturday (hash)TavaresDayTO on social media. They arrived at Scotiabank Arena carrying signs that read: “Dear John, We Do Need You, We Do Care! Love, Toronto” and “Toronto Loves You Tavares.”
Even Toronto Mayor John Tory and former New York Rangers bad boy Sean Avery joined the conversation. Mayor Tory tweeted: “Don’t let the haters get you down (at)91Tavares, you’re home now and we’re proud you’re here in Toronto! (hash)TavaresDayTO.” Avery posted an expletive-filled video condemning the New York crowd’s reaction.
The Leafs changed their starting lineup introductions to announce Tavares last, prompting a huge roar and standing ovation from the crowd.
Tavares gave them more to cheer about when he jammed in a loose puck for his 37th goal of the season, giving the Leafs an early lead just 4:20 into the game.
Pominville tied it up at the 6-minute mark scoring off a loose puck in the crease that trickled through Andersen’s pads. Sheary, who scored Buffalo’s OT winner a night earlier, then put the Sabres ahead with a wrist shot off a bouncing puck.
It was all Maple Leafs after that.
Rielly notched his 16th with 20 seconds left in the first with a wrist shot that bounced around before slipping through Ullmark’s legs.
Petan, who was acquired by the Leafs at Monday’s NHL trade deadline, scored his first goal for Toronto, a one-timer in front of the net with 4:58 left in the second. Petan had only played 13 games for Winnipeg this season, sitting for long stretches. His goal was his first in more than a year.
Zaitsev padded the Leafs’ lead 55 seconds before the second intermission when he fired a hard pass that deflected off Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour and into the net.
Marner’s empty-net goal came with just under two minutes to play.
NOTES: The Leafs, third in the Atlantic Division, were missing defensemen Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner. Gardiner was already out with a sore back before Dermott injured his shoulder when he was checked into the boards in Wednesday’s 6-2 win over Edmonton. Dermott is expected to miss four weeks. ... The Sabres lost to Toronto for the third time this season, including last week’s 5-3 loss Monday in Toronto on trade deadline day.
Sabres: Host Edmonton on Sunday night.
Maple Leafs: At Calgary on Monday night to open a three-game trip to Western Canada.
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