By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - Clarke MacArthur had a goal and two assists against his former team as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday to keep alive their slim playoff hopes.
With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Leafs came into the contest needing a victory over the Sabres, who occupy the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot they are targeting.
MacArthur broke an eight game scoring slump to pace the Toronto attack while Dion Phaneuf, Darryl Boyce and Mikhail Grabovski of Belarus also contributed goals.
While the Leafs exited the ice to a thundering ovation from the capacity crowd, they face an uphill climb to reach the postseason, still trailing the Sabres by five points with five games to play.
"We want to keep going right to the end here and see what happens," MacArthur told reporters. "We need all the help we can get.
"It's always nice to score against your old team, I'm not going to lie, it feels great but at this point in the year we are just trying to get the two points any way we can do it."
It was a missed opportunity for the Sabres, who could have all but ended Toronto's post-season ambitions with a victory.
But now the Sabres face a nervy finish to the schedule with the Carolina Hurricanes adding to the pressure with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals to close within three points back.
Ryan Miller, with two shutouts in his last three games, was beaten early as the Leafs scored on their first shot, Phaneuf drilling a long-range slapshot past the Buffalo netminder's outstretched glove.
With just over a minute remaining in the opening period Boyce doubled the Toronto lead but with 12 seconds to play the Sabres pulled one back when Thomas Vanek snapped a wrist shot past James Reimer.
In the second, the Leafs were again quick out of the gate, MacArthur restoring the two goal lead before Buffalo hit back with Jason Pominville and Rob Niedermayer scoring 30 seconds apart to level the contest at 3-3.
But before the end of the frame, Grabovski would net the game winner charging down the slot and flicking the puck past Miller.
"We got off to a tough start and made some big mistakes," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We gave up some big turnovers, we didn't do a very good job taking care of the puck.
"Penalties put us behind the eight ball."
(Editing by Julian Linden/Patrick Johnston)