Brian Campbell and Maxim Afinogenov scored four minutes apart in the third period to help the Sabres beat the Bruins 6-3 Wednesday night and snap a season-worst 0-2-1 skid. Daniel Paille scored twice, including an empty-net goal in the final minute, while Vanek and Derek Roy also scored as Buffalo also ended a three-game home losing skid.
Kessel, playing in his fifth game back after having surgery for testicular cancer, had a career-best two goals in his first multipoint game.
“It’s remarkable,” Vanek said of his fellow University of Minnesota alum. “Seeing him out there and scoring those goals, being happy again for being part of the team. It makes everyone happy.”
Glen Murray also scored for the Bruins.
The Sabres victory didn’t entirely overshadow the magnitude of Kessel’s outing. The 2006 first-round draft pick, who missed 11 games and had not produced a point since he returned, declined to talk to reporters afterward. However, his teammates and coach Dave Lewis were certainly excited.
“It’s nice to see him rewarded for what he’s gone through,” Lewis said. “It’s probably his best game since coming back.”
Kessel, who now has seven goals this season, appeared destined to be the game’s star. He opened the scoring with a breakaway goal 10 minutes in and then tied the score 3-3 in the opening minute of the third period, when he one-timed in Marc Savard’s cross-ice pass.
The Eastern Conference-leading Sabres (32-11-4), however, responded by capping their best offensive outing in 11 games – dating to a 6-3 win over Washington on Dec. 26. It also made up for Buffalo squandering a 2-1 lead in a 3-2 shootout loss at Boston on Monday.
Campbell put the Sabres up 4-3 with 9:55 remaining, when his rising shot from the right point appeared to deflect off someone in front.
Afinogenov then sealed it 3:39 later, by finishing a great individual effort when he streaked past defender Andrew Alberts at the Bruins’ blue-line, cut to the net and backhanded a shot in.
It was an important win for a Sabres team that was not accustomed to losing and was uncharacteristically sloppy of late.
“We need that win. It was nice to get,” Campbell said. “It’s getting back to normal, but it’s not where we need to be yet.”
Goalie Ryan Miller stopped 25 shots, his best save coming with eight minutes left when he kicked out his right pad to stop Brad Stuart’s blast from the right circle.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff remained cautious, noting his team still has two games left, including a home contest against Vancouver on Friday, before opening a five-day all-star game break on Sunday.
Asked if the slump’s over, Ruff replied with a wink: “I’ll tell you on Friday.”
The Bruins dropped to 2-6-1 in the last nine games and have lost five straight on the road – the team’s worst stretch since going 0-5 in the final month of last season.
“We had our chances, especially early,” Savard said. “I thought we had good momentum but we couldn’t capitalize on it.”
As for Kessel’s outing, Savard smiled.
“It’s great,” Savard said. “Hopefully, he can roll it over with a couple of big games.”
Notes: Boston was without C Wayne Primeau, who hurt his shoulder against the Sabres on Monday. D Bobby Allen, called up from AHL Providence on Tuesday, made his Bruins debut while playing only his second NHL game, and first since Dec. 31, 2002, when he was with Edmonton. … Sabres LW Jochen Hecht, out for at least a week, missed his first game since sustaining a lower body injury on Monday. … Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere had two assists to give him a single-season career high 38.