Auston Matthews scores twice as Maple Leafs hang onto beat Sabres

Maple Leafs 5 Sabres 3

TORONTO — Auston Matthews scored twice as the Toronto Maple Leafs hung on to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 on Tuesday.

Frederik Gauthier, with a goal and an assist, Dmytro Timashov and Ilya Mikheyev also scored for Toronto (17-14-4), which got 27 saves from Frederik Andersen. Tyson Barrie chipped in with two assists.

Matthews became the second player in franchise history to score at least 20 in each of his first four NHL seasons, joining Dave Keon, who did it in six straight from 1960-61 to 1965-66.

Rasmus Dahlin and Jack Eichel, with a goal and an assist each, and Kyle Okposo replied for Buffalo (16-12-7), while Victor Olofsson added two assists. Linus Ullmark stopped 28 shots for the Sabres.

Eichel extended his point streak to 17 games (16 goals, 15 assists) — the longest in the NHL this season.

Toronto led 1-0 after a dominant first period, and went up 2-0 at 4:47 of the second when Matthews took a pass from Morgan Rielly off the rush and wired a shot under the crossbar shortside for his 20th.

Olofsson, the league’s rookie scoring leader, came close to getting the Sabres back within one later in the period, but Andersen made a great glove save before also stopping the follow-up chance.

The Leafs stretched their lead to 3-0 with 2:21 left in the second when William Nylander found Matthews in the slot, and he stepped around Conor Sheary like the Sabres forward wasn’t even there before roofing a backhand past Ullmark with Dahlin desperately trying to cover for his netminder — giving the star centre his 21st of the campaign.

The Sabres — who sat second in the Atlantic Division ahead of Tuesday’s tilt, three points up on the fifth-place Leafs — made it 3-1 at 1:29 of the third when Dahlin scored his 2nd on a power-play point shot through traffic that fooled Andersen.

Timashov restored the home side’s three-goal lead at 4:58 when he scored his third on a backhand between Ullmark’s pads following a breakaway feed from Barrie.

The visitors, however, were far from done.

Eichel beat Andersen on a wicked shot for his 24th just 92 seconds later before Okposo scored his fourth to make it 4-3 with 5:19 left in regulation, after the Toronto goalie couldn’t find a loose puck after making the initial save on Sheary.

Buffalo got a power play with under five minutes left, but Mikheyev scored his sixth shorthanded into an empty net with 2:34 remaining after Marcus Johansson turned the puck over with Ullmark on the bench.

Toronto opened the scoring at 2:30 of the first when Gauthier pounced on a loose puck off the rush to snap home his fourth, and second in as many games, after sitting out four straight as a healthy scratch.

The Leafs, who were playing at home for the first time since Dec. 4 and coming off a 3-1-0 road trip, controlled the play for huge chunks of the period, but Ullmark was there each time.

The Sabres goalie stopped John Tavares on a couple of good chances as Toronto played keep away, and stretched to rob Barrie with the glove on a 2-on-0 rush after the defenceman jumped up into the play.

Buffalo’s only decent chance of the first came moments before Gauthier’s opener when Andersen denied Marcus Johansson from the slot.

Notes: Leafs forward Mitch Marner extended his point streak to five games (three goals, five assists) on the first of the night from Matthews. … Toronto winger Trevor Moore (shoulder) was expected to return after a 13-game absence, but was injured in Monday’s practice. … Barrie dressed after taking a shot off his ankle Saturday. … The Leafs and Sabres split a home-and-home series Nov. 29 and 30, with Buffalo winning 6-4 in western New York and Toronto securing a 2-1 overtime victory the following night. The teams meet one final time in the regular season Feb. 16 at KeyBank Center. … Toronto visits the New York Rangers on Friday before hosting Detroit on Saturday and Carolina on Monday prior to the NHL’s Christmas break. Buffalo, meanwhile, is at Philadelphia on Thursday, home to Los Angeles on Saturday, and then visits Ottawa on Monday.

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