Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft (1) keeps his eye on a rebound. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
The star centre of the Buffalo Sabres also delivered on a dressing room promise to rookie forward Michael Ryan, who in his first NHL game inadvertently gave the Toronto Maple Leafs life late in the second period when he knocked a rebound into his own goal. "I promised him between periods that we would win the game," Briere said after his team's 7-4 victory over the Leafs. "I felt bad for him, in his first NHL game, that was a tough break. Just bad luck."
Ryan, recalled from AHL Rochester earlier in the day, could feel his stomach churn when Toronto's Darcy Tucker tied the game 4-4 just over seven minutes into the third period.
But then Briere - with his second of the game - held true to his word, taking a pass in the slot from Daniel Paille after a giveaway by Andrew Raycroft and beating the Leafs netminder glove-side with 5:19 remaining, igniting a raucous celebration from the sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena.
"He did deliver on his promise," said the 26-year-old Ryan, a Boston native. "I think I jumped about four feet off the ground on the bench when he scored."
Jason Pominville and Chris Drury scored empty-net goals to send fans happy on the eve of U.S. Thanksgiving.
Maxim Afinogenov, Jiri Novotny and Brian Campbell also scored for the high-flying Sabres, who improved to an NHL-best 18-3-1 and avenged a 4-1 loss here Nov. 4 to the same Leafs.
Tucker had his team-leading 14th and 15th goals while Kyle Wellwood and Jeff O'Neill also replied for the Leafs (12-7-4), who showed some game in erasing a 4-2 deficit and giving the Sabres all they could handle once again this season.
"It was a good game, it was an unfortunate result," said Leafs head coach Paul Maurice. "They had their stretches and we had ours, and I thought we played a heck of a third period."
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots, including a point-blank save on Tucker late in the game with the Leafs on a power play.
The Leafs outshot the Sabres 36-29, including 16-8 in the third, but couldn't capitalize on a quick 2-0 lead. The Sabres erased a two-goal deficit for an amazing seventh time this season.
"We certainly do believe that we can come back," said Briere, who leads the Sabres in scoring with 30 points (10-20) in 22 games, "We've done it a few times this year."
Referees Brad Meier and Dean Morton called 18 minor penalties, nine to each team, and some of them marginal at best. Ten hooking calls were assessed, seven on the Sabres.
"It's the way it should be called," Briere insisted. "I thought it was one of the better refereed games all year. I really do."
The Leafs were up 2-0 less then four minutes into the game thanks to a pair of 5-on-3 goals, Tucker's trademark one-timer from the side opening the scoring at 2:19 and Wellwood flicking the backboards rebound into an open side at 3:44.
The parade to the penalty box continued and Afinogenov flipped in his own rebound on a Buffalo power play to cut the lead to 2-1 at 10:27.
Novotny, alone in front, tied the game 2-2 when he beat a helpless Raycroft with a wrist shot from in-close at 12:37.
The Sabres carried the momentum into the middle period, Briere one-timing a shot past Raycroft after a jaw-dropping, no-look backhand pass from Thomas Vanek 1:54 into the second on yet another power play.
Campbell followed up his own shot and poked in a shot past Raycroft just 1:11 later and it was suddenly 4-2 Sabres, Maurice calling a timeout to settle down his rattled club.
The Leafs played much better after that, although they got lucky to make it 4-3 at 14:55, O'Neill's shot stopped by Miller but deflected in by Buffalo's Ryan.
Buoyed by "Go Leafs Go" chants from the few thousand Ontario residents on hand, Tucker tied 4-4 when he crashed the net 7:19 into the third period and knocked in a rebound on Tomas Kaberle's wrist shot, setting up a wild finish between the rivals.
Notes: Andy Murray, who lost out to Ken Hitchcock for the coaching vacancy in Columbus, was scouting the Leafs-Sabres game for Montreal. The Habs are in Buffalo on Friday night ... The Leafs fell to 5-18-3 since HSBC Arena opened ... Rookie defenceman Brendan Bell was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row ... The Leafs next play Friday at Washington and return home Saturday to host Boston. Leafs captain Mats Sundin (elbow) could possibly be back as early as Saturday. He was injured Nov. 6 in a game against Philadelphia ... The Sabres are 9-1 in one-goal games this season.