BUFFALO, N.Y. – Drew Stafford made sure the Buffalo Sabres wouldn’t let another lead slip away.
Stafford scored twice and added an assist, Thomas Vanek had a goal and two assists, and Ryan Miller finished with 23 saves to lift the Sabres to a 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
The dominant victory came 24 hours after Buffalo squandered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Friday.
“It was the same kind of game, but we kept ‘er going and scored more goals,” said Stafford, who restored the Sabres’ four-goal lead with his second tally of the night.
That score was just over five minutes after Nikolai Kulemin’s short-handed goal made it 4-1 with 11:10 left in the second period.
“We gave up that shorty, and that kind of hurt, but the bottom line is that I think we learned our lesson.”
The surging Sabres pulled within five points of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Both Atlanta and Carolina have 58 points, while Buffalo sits in 10th place with 53.
“I’ve said it before that if we want to get into the playoffs we have to make sure that we deserve to go in and do the right things to get the wins,” Vanek said. “I think in Pittsburgh we kind of just sat back and let them take the game to us.”
Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad and Tim Connolly also scored for the Sabres, who improved to 10-4-1 in their past 15 games.
Miller made his 28th consecutive start for Buffalo, which won its seventh straight at home against Toronto. He was rarely tested, but came up with a big stop with his right pad on Toronto’s Phil Kessel when the speedy forward went in on a partial breakaway with 14 1/2 minutes left in the second period, and the Sabres ahead 3-0.
“Ryan’s been there all year for us,” Vanek said. “When a save had to be made, he made it.”
Francois Beauchemin also scored, and rookie James Reimer allowed five goals on 30 shots before being yanked after two periods for the Maple Leafs, who had their two-game winning streak snapped.
Reimer was coming off his first career NHL shutout on Thursday against Carolina. He was relieved by Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who gave up a goal on 13 shots over the final 20 minutes.
“I had a good game the other night and got the bounces, but tonight I needed to get a couple more saves, and I didn’t get the bounces,” Reimer said. “It’s a tough one, but those happen. Me and everybody else just has to be a little bit better.”
Toronto lost for the fifth consecutive time on the road after winning a season-high five in a row away from home.
“I can’t really put a finger on what it is,” defenceman Luke Schenn said about Toronto’s woes in Buffalo. “For whatever reason we never seem to play well here. It’s pretty frustrating.”
Down 5-1 after two periods, the Maple Leafs cut it to 5-2 on Beauchemin’s goal with 7:21 left.
Vanek capped the scoring with his team-leading 19th of the season with 3:17 to go.
Leading by a pair of goals after the first period, Buffalo pushed its lead to 3-0 on Gaustad’s seventh of the season when he snapped in a shot from the right circle at 4:19 of the second.
Connolly then made it 4-0 with a power-play goal just under three minutes later before Kulemin scored Toronto’s first goal of the game.
Stafford scored his second of the game, and 17th of the season, with 5:38 left in the second with a wrist shot from the high slot to make it 5-1.
The Sabres struck first just 3:31 into the game when Pominville netted his 12th of the season. After getting a backhand pass from Vanek in the slot, Pominville wristed a shot into the top-right corner to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
Stafford made it 2-0 on the power play just under six minutes in. He one-timed Jordan Leopold’s cross-ice pass from the left circle.
“We were able to capitalize on our power-play opportunities,” Stafford said. “We pretty much had as close an all-around 60-minute effort as we’ve had in a while.”
Notes: The Sabres improved to 29-9-1 against Toronto since 2005-06. … The most recent Maple Leafs win in Buffalo was Dec. 12, 2008. … The Sabres have killed off 37 straight penalties against Toronto dating back to March 2009. … Miller’s career high for consecutive starts is 34, set in the 2007-08 season. … Buffalo outshot Toronto by an 11-1 margin over the first 10 minutes of the first period, but were outshot 9-1 over the final 10 minutes of the frame.