Toronto Maple Leafs: Out To Beat The Ghost Of Buffalo Past

Dino MoriAnalyst IDecember 21, 2009

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 09:  Goalie Ryan Miller #30 of the Buffalo Sabres guards the net during the game against the Washington Capitals on December 9, 2009 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/ Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping that Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller is in the giving spirit when his Sabres pay a visit to the Air Canada Center Monday night.

Miller has performed more like the Grinch against Toronto, posting a stingy 1.25 goals against average and a .961 save percentage in his last nine starts against them.

He is 3-0 so far this year against Toronto, including last Friday's 5-2 victory at the HSBC Arena.  Miller made 40 saves on this night and back on Nov. 30 shutout the Maple Leafs, 3-0, at the ACC.

The Sabres netminder is 20-7 lifetime against the Maple Leafs, the most victories recorded versus any other NHL opponent.

Miller leads the NHL in both save percentage (.937) and goals against average (1.89).  He is tied for third in wins with Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick (20), behind Pittsburgh's Marc Andre Fleury (21) and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (22). 

He is also atop the league in shutouts, along with Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov, with four.

Barring an injury, the 29-year old native of Lansing, Michigan is the odds on favourite to be the starting netminder for the United States team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver this February.

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The Maple Leafs will be looking to beat the Sabres for the first time in almost two years.  The last time Toronto earned a victory against Buffalo was back on Jan. 19 2008, a 4-2 win. 

As impressive as Miller has been of late, so too was the performance of Maple Leafs netminder known around the league as the Monster.

Jonas Gustavsson earned his first career shutout last Saturday as the Maple Leafs blanked the Boston Bruins, 2-0. 

Gustavsson made 25 stops in the his first start since returning from his second minor heart surgery of the season.

The Swedish netminder did play the final 30 minutes in a relief role last Friday against the Sabres, after starter Vesa Toskala surrendered four goals on just 10 shots. 

Saturday's victory by the Maple Leafs ended their two-game losing streak, and improved the club's season record to 13-16-7.  The Leafs are currently tied with Tampa Bay for 11th in the Eastern Conference with 33 points.

Buffalo, meanwhile, is fourth with 45 points, after losing 2-1 in a shootout to Pittsburgh in their previous outing.

This is one of those statement games for the Maple Leafs if they have any aspirations of making the post-season.  They need a victory to prove to themselves that Miller is human and can be beat. 

Toronto hasn't beaten the Sabres in nearly two years, and that's likely weighing on their minds.

To their credit, they did come out last Friday against Miller and company and were the better team for 20 minutes. 

A similar start is imperative is they hope to garner win number 14 on the season.

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