BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Visiting fans flecked the ice with hats as another ghost of Sabres past had triumphant return to his old barn.

Evoking the spirts of Jack Eichel’s villainous visit to Buffalo earlier this season, former teammate Ryan O’Reilly scored a hat trick to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 6-3 win Tuesday night in front of a divided crowd of 18,641 at KeyBank Center.

This wasn’t O’Reilly’s first time playing in Buffalo since he was traded to St. Louis in 2018 offseason, but it was his first appearance here since joining Atlantic Division rival Toronto by traded last week.

“Definitely feels a little better than other buildings, for sure,” said O’Reilly, who played three seasons in Buffalo from 2015-18.

O’Reilly had a multi-goal game in Buffalo for the first time in his career, as the seven occasions in which he scored twice for the Sabres happened on the road. O’Reilly scored on the Leafs’ first two shots on net 37 seconds apart in the opening minutes, sparking the Maple Leafs to a 4-0 lead 12:09 into the first period. He added an empty-net goal to stifle Buffalo’s charge in the third period for his fourth career hat trick, and also tallied an assist to match his career high with four points.

Returning home after winning the final two on a three-game road trip and gaining ground in the playoff race, the Sabres continued a trend of struggling at home. The Sabres have been outscored 18-6 in losing their past three at KeyBank Center. Buffalo is 17-8-2 on the road, but fell to 11-15-2 at home.

Alex Tuch, with the 100th goal of his career, Jack Quinn and Jeff Skinner scored for Buffalo in a game the Sabres fought back late after trailing 5-0 through two periods. Tage Thompson hit the post on a shot that could’ve gotten the Sabres within a goal late in the third.

“Tonight was a big game and we lost it, but there’s 27 more games. So, we have to scratch this one and move on,” Tuch said. “I thought we still can take a little bit away from the third period, but we dug ourselves too big of a hole. So, we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we did wrong at the start of the game.”

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen allowed four goals on 10 shots before being yanked. Buffalo’s rookie goaltender has allowed 19 goals in dropping to 1-3-1 in his last five starts. He was replaced by Craig Anderson, who finished allowing one goal on 18 shots.

Sabres coach Don Granato opened his postgame remarks by asserting that “this was not on UPL just so we’re clear on that.”

“That change was made because we didn’t have the start,” Granato. “They had jump at the start and we didn’t. It was one of those nights where you could see we weren’t processing things well. I thought that was the case through the entire game. We didn’t look sharp. We didn’t feel sharp. We had to battle within ourselves and we challenged them quite a bit on the coaching side.”

Playing his third game in four nights since getting traded for the third time in his 14-year career, O’Reilly, the playoff MVP for the 2019 Stanley Cup-winning Blues opened the scoring 3:51 in by snapping in Marner’s centering pass into the open left side of the net. Set up by Marner again, O’Reilly broke in alone and backhanded a shot, beating Luukkonen on the short side 37 seconds later.

O’Reilly’s new linemates got in on the fun, with captain John Tavares scoring and adding three assists, and Mitchell Marner setting up five goals.

Michael Bunting and William Nylander also scored for Toronto in a game played before a large contingent of “Go, Leafs! Go!”-chanting, blue-and-white clad fans making the trip across the border.

Ilya Samsonov, who didn’t face his first shot until halfway through the first period, finished with 29 saves. He stopped the first 22 shots he faced before getting beaten three times in the final 14:48.

Tavares then made it 3-0 at 7:14 by converting a loose puck after a shot by Marner from the right circle was blocked in front.


Sabres travel to play Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.


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.