Leafs Solve One Nemesis, Chance at Another Monday Night Against Buffalo

Jon NeelyAnalyst IDecember 20, 2009

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 18: Lee Stempniak #12 of the the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to make a play next to Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on December 18, 2009 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

There was a giant sigh of re-Leaf Saturday night after the Maple Leafs finally beat the Boston Bruins after a nasty seven-game losing streak to the division rivals that dated back to early last season.

It was a hard-fought, bloody battle that ended with a 2-0 win for the Leafs and the first career shutout for Jonas Gustavsson, who had a solid 25-save performance.

But more importantly the Leafs were able to beat their former nemesis, Tuukka Rask, the Leafs former first-round pick who they sent to the Bruins in 2006 in the trade that sent Andrew Raycroft to Toronto. Since Rask started his career in the NHL he had become somewhat of a nemesis for the Leafs.

Rask recorded his first career victory in Toronto on Nov. 20, 2007 in what was a huge boost to his confidence, since the Leafs seemingly gave up on the Finnish net minder before even giving him a chance.

He was 2-0 this season against the Leafs coming into Saturday night, a 7-2 win on Dec. 5 and a 5-2 win on Dec. 10, and was looking for his fourth-straight win against his former team.

But the Leafs finally prevailed against Rask, and all it took was a weak wrister from the wing by Tomas Kaberle that beat him short-side which turned out to be all they would need.

It was a big rebound win for the team who had lost their previous two games and were looking extremely lackluster compared to their great December play. The Leafs are now 7-4 during the month but have a tough test coming up with the Buffalo Sabres coming to town on Monday.

And with them comes another Leaf nemesis in Ryan Miller.

The Leafs have major problems beating Miller and never seem to play well against the Sabres as they've lost all three meetings this season and the last eight games overall.

Miller has been putting up insane numbers this season, leading the league with a 1.89 GAA, .937 SV%, and four shutouts. It's clear that the Leafs aren't the only team he's been shutting down, but he especially loves to play the Leafs.

After snapping the losing streak against the Bruins on Saturday and finally beating the goalie-nemesis in Rask, they have another chance to do the same against the Sabres and Miller back at the ACC on Monday.

It was a pitiful performance Friday night in Buffalo as the Leafs lost 5-2, but they hope that playing on their own ice will be what they need facing them just three days later.

The Leafs have been playing great at home as of late, winning five of their past six games there, and hope to continue to trend.

It would be a huge if the Leafs could get a rare win against Buffalo, not only to end the streak, but it's a small four-point gap between them and the eighth and final playoff spot. A win on Monday would be huge for their confidence and inch them even close to that ever-desired post-season position.

There is a long way to go, but for now the Leafs can at least say one nemesis down, one to go.