BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Alex Tuch made up for lost time and showed how much the Sabres missed his presence in the lineup.
Tuch returned to Buffalo’s top line after a two-week injury absence and scored twice in Monday night’s 4-3 win at Toronto, snapping the Sabres’ four-game skid and giving Tuch 30 goals in a season for the first time in his career.
“I love playing on this team,” Tuch said. “I love these guys in here. To go in and work with them and battle with them means the world to me. I missed it, that’s for sure.”
Dylan Cozens lifted his career-high tally to 26 goals, Jack Quinn scored his 13th, while two other rookies, JJ Peterka and Owen Power each tallied two assists, and Craig Anderson made 25 saves for the Sabres (33-28-5). Surpassing last season’s victory total in 16 fewer games, the Sabres now have 71 points in the standings, five behind the New York Islanders, two back of the Florida Panthers, and tied with the Washington Capitals in the race for the final wild-card playoff spot.
Opening a three-game road trip in Toronto, the Sabres play at Washington on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Friday.
Buffalo went 2-5-1 while Tuch was parked on the reserve list with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot with his foot in a Feb. 24 win at Florida. Having scored the decisive goal against the Panthers, Tuch can set a franchise record if he nets the game-winner against the Capitals. Over his past six games, Tuch has six goals and three assists.
With Tuch back on the wing, the Sabres returned Quinn to the second line beside Cozens, moved new acquisition Jordan Greenway to the third line, and scratched Victor Olofsson, who has a career-high 24 goals this season, but has scored just once while tallying three assists over the past 17 games.
Auston Matthews had a goal and two assists, and William Nylander and Calle Jarnkrok also scored for Toronto. Mitch Marner had two assists and Matt Murray stopped 25 shots.
After falling behind 2-0 early in the second period, the Sabres scored four consecutive goals over a 27-minute stretch.
“We’ve made defending a greater focal point,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “Our guys recognized tonight ways they could impact it more and more as the game went along.”
The Sabres were missing top pair defenseman Mattias Samuelsson due to injury, but All-Star Rasmus Dahlin played after sitting out Sunday’s practice. Jacob Bryson joined the lineup in Samuelsson’s place next to Dahlin.
Quinn batted the puck past Murray for the rookie forward’s 13th to get the Sabres on the scoreboard with 5:02 left in the second.
Anderson made a nice breakaway stop on Nylander on Toronto’s next shot early in the third — the Leafs went over 17 minutes without testing the Sabres’ goalie — before Tuch tied things at 3:39.
Murray denied Tage Thompson on a break to keep Toronto level, but Cozens gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead near the midpoint of the period for his 26th.
With the Sabres on a power play, Tuch converted a pass from Jeff Skinner with 8:41 left for his second of the night and first 30-goal season.
The Maple Leafs finally woke up as the period wore on, but Anderson stopped Michael Bunting on a 2-on-0 with John Tavares. Nylander scored his 35th from a tight angle with 1:01 remaining, but that’s as close as Toronto would come despite a wild final few seconds.
Playing his 38th career game against the Maple Leafs, Anderson was also sharp in a first period that included a couple of good looks for Matthews, who came in with 13 goals in 16 contests against the 41-year-old.
But Matthews eventually connected early in the second. After Marner and Alexander Kerfoot moved in on a 2-on-1, the latter booted the puck with his skate into the path of Matthews for him to chip his 31st upstairs.
Jarnkrok then doubled the advantage just over three minutes later when he fired five-hole for his 15th.
A sound issue at Scotiabank Arena meant there was no audio for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” prior to puck drop, but fans stepped in a cappella-style and belted out the U.S. national anthem before the problem was fixed in time for “O Canada.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.