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John Tavares scores two as Leafs beat Sabres

John Tavares scored his first two goals on home ice with the Maple Leafs as Toronto defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 in pre-season play on Friday night.

Ron Hainsey, Pierre Engvall and Chris Mueller also scored for the Leafs. Curtis McElhinney stopped all 20 shots he faced after replacing Garret Sparks, who made nine saves, midway through the second period at the newly-named Scotiabank Arena.

Maple Leafs centre John Tavares celebrate his goal against Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark on Friday night at the Scotiabank Arena.
Maple Leafs centre John Tavares celebrate his goal against Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark on Friday night at the Scotiabank Arena.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

Andrew Oglevie, C.J. Smith and Tage Thompson replied for the Sabres. Linus Ullmark made 27 saves in taking the loss.

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The teams will play an exhibition rematch Saturday night in Buffalo.

Oglevie opened the scoring half a minute into the first period when he slid a rebound past Sparks, but Hainsey’s shot through traffic tied it 18 seconds later. Engvall continued the chaotic start 23 seconds after that when he took a pass from Colin Greening and beat Ullmark for a third goal in the game’s first 1:11.

Tavares then made it 3-1 with his third of the pre-season at 3:42, finishing off a sequence he started in the Toronto zone. The star centre fed a stretch pass to Marner, who in turn dropped it back to Timothy Liljegren. The rookie defenceman blasted a one-timer at Ullmark, and Tavares was there to bury the rebound upstairs.

Smith continued the deluge at 11:28 when be won a battle following an offensive zone faceoff and drove to the net before beating Sparks to pull Buffalo within one.

Tavares — who signed a seven-year, US$ 77-million contract with the Leafs on July 1 after nine seasons with the New York Islanders — was helped out by his goalie early in the second after a turnover, with Sparks making a toe stop on an Alexander Nylander breakaway

Fans welcome Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) as the Toronto Maple Leafs play their first pre-season home game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Fans welcome Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) as the Toronto Maple Leafs play their first pre-season home game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

But Sparks was unable to bail out another defensive miscue later in the period on a bad Martin Marincin pinch when Thompson pulled the puck past a sliding Connor Carrick on a 2-on-1 and ripped a shot home at 6:08.

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The Leafs retook the lead at 10:55 when Mueller plowed forward off a faceoff in the Sabres end before picking the pocket of the Buffalo defender and stuffing the puck past Ullmark.

Tavares and Marner lost their regular winger early in the second when Zach Hyman left with a bone bruise after taking an innocent-looking shot by teammate Rasmus Sandin off the skate.

Ullmark kept the Sabres in it with a great glove save on Josh Jooris with 7:52 left, but the Leafs and McElhinney held the fort the rest of the way before Tavares iced it into an empty net with 43.2 remaining on the clock.

Apart from Tavares, Marner, Hyman and Hainsey, other veterans in the lineup for Toronto included Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown.

Buffalo iced a less-experienced group, but did have Vladimir Sobotka, Zemgus Girgensons and star rookie Casey Mittelstadt.

Friday marked Toronto’s first game at home since Air Canada Centre was renamed Scotiabank Arena as part of a 20-year, $ 800 million partnership between the financial institution and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment took effect the same day Tavares signed with the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in the suburbs west of the city.

Auston Matthews, Patrick Marleau, Frederik Andersen and Jake Gardiner are among the Toronto veterans expected to dress Saturday, while the home side’s lineup should include Jack Eichel, Carter Hutton and Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 pick at June’s NHL draft.

TORONTO STAR