Sabres set for spotlight in 2022 NHL Heritage Classic against Maple Leafs

HAMILTON, Ontario — The Buffalo Sabres have a big stage awaiting them when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2022 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday (4 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, TVAS, NHL LIVE).

With three recent wins in a nine-day span against teams in Stanley Cup Playoff position, the Sabres (19-32-8) believe they’re ready for some exposure.

“Especially as of late, we’ve been playing pretty good hockey,” forward Casey Mittelstadt said. “Some of those wins speak for it. Obviously tomorrow is going to be on a big stage, on national television and quite a few people are going to be at the game. It’s going to be highly covered. We all know that and we’re going to be ready to go and we’re going to be hungry.”

The Sabres won 5-1 at the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 2, defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on March 4 and won 3-1 against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday in the return of former captain Jack Eichel to Buffalo.

Defenseman Mark Pysyk, playing in his first NHL outdoor game, said after practice Saturday that he’s sensed that hunger in the Sabres and a desire to put an improving game on display in the Heritage Classic.

“We’re coming off that win [against Vegas],” Pysyk said. “The excitement in the room right now is way up and it’s going to be no different tomorrow.”

Pysyk said that better play is starting to show up more frequently than earlier in the season. Buffalo, which has won three of its past five, went 3-9-2 in November, including a 5-4 loss to Toronto (37-16-5) on Nov. 13.

“Throughout the year there definitely have been flashes of what we expected of ourselves as a team, how good we can be,” Pysyk said. “But that consistency is what separates the best teams in the League. And obviously this is a short glimpse the past few games, but some consistency has been there much more than the earlier part of the year.”

Pysyk said the Sabres also are gaining confidence.

“They (the Maple Leafs) are obviously going to come out hard against us,” Pysyk said. “But like I said, that confidence from the last game against Vegas, guys played a solid game the whole 60, and just knowing that we can do it and we are capable of it is huge.”

The third game of the season between the teams will have the added element of the outdoors. Forecasts call for a temperature of about 30 degrees at game time with a chance of snow showers.

The Sabres practiced in partly sunny conditions in the late afternoon with winds gusting to 30 mph and a temperature of 17 degrees. The Maple Leafs practiced in the early evening during swirling snow flurries.

“The sun gave a little glare off the ice at the beginning, but then the clouds covered it up,” Sabres forward Jeff Skinner said. “The wind affected it more than I thought. It’s obviously tough to skate against the wind. It pushed the puck a little bit, but the ice was really good, a good sign, and it should be a good game.”

Skinner said there will be no advantage in the conditions for either team.

“It’s the same for both teams,” Skinner said. “How the conditions were today, we probably want to simplify our game a little bit. When there’s a little bit of unpredictability with how the puck’s going to react or what the sightlines will be, I think the best thing to do will be to play a little bit more simply and safely and build out from there as you get more comfortable.”

Buffalo goalie Craig Anderson, who’s expected to start Sunday, said the increased number of variables only adds to the spectacle and the opportunity.

This will be Anderson’s third NHL outdoor game after he played two for the Ottawa Senators. He made 29 saves in a 4-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014 Heritage Classic in Vancouver on March 2, 2014, and made 28 saves in a 3-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2017 NHL100 Classic in Ottawa on Dec. 16, 2017.

Anderson can become the second goalie to win three NHL outdoor games. Henrik Lundqvist won all four of his with the New York Rangers.

“Now that we’re here, I remembered how much fun it is out there,” Anderson said. “Today’s skate, you’re on the ice, the wind’s blowing, you’re all bundled up and just kind of the pure joy of hockey takes over. It’s still the NHL, but it’s the kids’ game, the pure joy of the game comes out in these types of experiences.”  

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