BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After months of self-imposed suffering, the Buffalo Sabres are out to have fun again under new interim coach Ted Nolan.
The Sabres defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 Friday night in Nolan's first game in Buffalo in almost 17 years, showing the hustle and desire that was prominent during Nolan's first stint in Buffalo.
"It did feel completely different," Buffalo captain Steve Ott said. "It was for a lot of reasons. The biggest reason is that slate's been wiped clean."
The Sabres were counting on Nolan to provide a jumpstart for a team that had stumbled out of the gates to one of its worst starts in franchise history. Buffalo fired general manager Darcy Regier -- who infamously said there would be "suffering" this year as part of a lengthy Sabres rebuild -- and coach Ron Rolston on Wednesday.
A boost is exactly what the Sabres got. Buffalo (5-15-1) responded with its most inspired effort of the season and has now won back-to-back games for the first time this year.
"Those 20 games or so have been thrown out the window," Ott said. "They came in and to a man they told every guy it's time to work for your ice time or work for your chances and tonight I thought every guy did as a man. It was a lot of fun to go out there and feel like the weight is off our shoulders. For the last little while, we've been playing with some pretty heavy backs for the last few months and it hasn't been fun at all. Tonight we brought that fun."
Ott, left winger Marcus Foligno and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff scored for Buffalo. Goaltender Ryan Miller made 32 saves.
The biggest save of the night came for Buffalo from Ehrhoff, who put his body on the line to stop Toronto left winger James van Riemsdyk from hitting an open net with 44 seconds remaining. With the Sabres clinging to a 2-1 advantage, Ehrhoff blocked van Rimesdyk's shot from inside the left circle.
Ehrhoff then iced the game for Buffalo moments later by scoring an empty-net goal with 28 seconds remaining.
"It's a new start," Ehrhoff said. "A lot of guys have been down and confidence hasn't been high and when there's a change, a big change like that, it's a fresh start for everybody."
Center Trevor Smith scored for the Maple Leafs (11-7-1), who played a sound road game but were unable to find the back of the net more than once. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 24 saves.
"I thought we played a very good road game," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "We had our chances in the hockey game and you look at the difference of the game, the power play. They get a power-play goal and we don't get one."
Said Bernier: "I thought we deserved a better fate. We played really hard tonight. Bottom line is they scored a PP goal and we didn't."
Foligno scored the winning goal with 4:38 left in the second by finishing a blistering rush up ice. Right winger Drew Stafford's cross-ice pass found Ott streaking down the left side of the ice, and Foligno deftly finished the 2-on-1 opportunity with a backhand past Bernier.
Ott got Buffalo on the board just under halfway through the second period on the power play. The Sabres captain pounced on a rebound from a defenseman Tyler Myers blast and deposited it into the net 9:45 into the second to tie the game at 1.
It was only the third time this season Buffalo entered the third period with a lead.
Smith opened the scoring 6:25 into the second period after his slap shot deflected off Ehrhoff and into the net to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.
Nolan first coached the Sabres from 1995-97. Nolan won the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach during his first stint in Buffalo but left the team under acrimonious circumstances. He originally left the Sabres after being offered only a one-year deal from Regier, Buffalo's long-time general manager.
The new interim coach received a rousing welcome from the Sabres faithful when he was introduced prior to the start of the game.
That moment -- along with the rest of the day -- is something Nolan won't forget any time soon.
"I can't even put it into words," Nolan said. "I remembered every part of today, though. When I first came here a number of years ago, I still remember saying how hard we're going to work, and we got waxed by Detroit, 6-1. So tonight was a lot different, and hopefully it's a sign of good things to come."
NOTES: Eight years ago to the day, Pat LaFontaine was inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame. LaFontaine was named Buffalo's president of hockey operations on Wednesday. ... LW Johan Larsson, C Mikhail Grigorenko and D Nikita Zadorov were scratched for the Sabres. ... RW Troy Bodie, C Nazem Kadri and D Morgan Rielly were scratched for the Maple Leafs. ... Heading into Friday night's game, the Sabres had not lost the home portion of a home-and-home series with Toronto since the first home-and-home series ever between the two teams (a 4-2 defeat on Dec. 20, 1970). ... This was the first of five meetings between the teams this season and the 189th game all time between Buffalo and Toronto. Heading into Friday night, Buffalo led the series with a 104-61-23 record.