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Toronto at Buffalo January 8—the curse of Punch

As the Leafs bus to Buffalo to meet their local nemesis—the Sabres—this much is clear: these guys need to win a hockey game, regardless of their history in Buffalo.

It would be a good time for Phil Kessel—and a few others—to break out.

Maybe this whole problem of losing so much to the Sabres (not all the time, of course, but a lot, including the semi-finals in ’99 when it really hurt) goes back to long-time Maple Leaf Coach and General Manager Punch Imlach.

Leaf fans of a certain age know the history: Punch ran a tight ship, and also essentially ran outstanding players like Mahovlich, Brewer and Walton out of town (though Walton left after Punch himself was gone). But he won a lot, too—4 Cups come to mind.

When Imlach was fired moments after Game 4 of the 1969 quarter-finals by owner Stafford Smythe, he sat out a year, then returned in glory to run the expansion Buffalo Sabres starting in 1970-’71. He had a budding superstar in rookie Gilbert Perreault that year (boy, he was fun to watch, for me he was the Ovechkin of his day).

The first time the Sabres came to the Gardens to play the Leafs in mid-November that season, Toronto was struggling and the Sabres, a first-year expansion club, hammered the Leafs 7-2, no doubt inspired by Punch and his thirst for revenge.

I’m not sure things have gotten a lot better for the Leafs against Buffalo since.

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