Thomas Vanek scored twice, including the winner with four minutes left, in lifting the Sabres to a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night.
Besides opening a season-high six-game homestand with a victory, the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres won for the fourth time in five games, beginning to put behind them a tough stretch in which they went 4-7-1.
It helps, too, that Buffalo ended a four-game losing skid against its Northeast Division rival.
“I think we’re regaining a little bite, a little attitude, a little bit of the physical tone that I thought was missing,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “The message was, ‘If you guys want something, you have to earn it.”‘
They certainly earned this one, pulling out the victory despite playing on consecutive nights after a 4-3 shootout win at Atlanta. And Buffalo defeated a well-rested opponent – the Senators had been off since a 3-2 shootout loss against Toronto on Saturday.
“I don’t know if it’s an advantage or disadvantage,” Senators goalie Ray Emery said, when asked which team had the edge. “It’s just disappointing to lose.”
Maxim Afinogenov also scored for the Sabres (37-15-4) while backup Martin Biron made 28 saves to win his third straight start.
Peter Schaefer and Dean McAmmond scored for Ottawa (30-22-3), which dropped to 8-3-1 in its past 12.
The Sabres never trailed but twice squandered one-goal leads, including a 2-1 edge in the third period.
Vanek pulled out the victory with a power-play goal during a wild scramble in front. Vanek’s first shot from the slot – and with Emery out of position – was stopped by diving defenceman Anton Volchenkov. The puck caromed to the left circle, where Ales Kotalik fanned on his attempt, but the shot slid to the right post and Vanek slipped it into the open side.
“I had the whole net. It was pretty easy,” Vanek said. “I don’t know if it was a pass or a shot, but it worked out pretty well.”
The goal made up for a questionable penalty call that went against the Sabres earlier in the period and led to Schaefer’s power-play goal which tied the score 2-2.
The goal came after officials incorrectly penalized Teppo Numminen for delay of game after the Buffalo defenceman’s clearing attempt went over the glass. Replays showed Numminen’s backhander first hit the boards – which should have negated the penalty – before going out of play.
Questionable call aside, this marked the fifth time in seven games the Sabres have allowed an opponent to tie the score in the third period – with Buffalo losing three of those outings.
“The way we’ve been losing the third period lately, it’s good that we’re finding our way to win games again,” Kotalik said. “That’s a good sign for us down the stretch.”
The only bad news came when Sabres forward Paul Gaustad limped off the ice early in the third period after being cut across his upper right ankle by a skate blade. Ruff said Gaustad required numerous stitches but initial tests were negative.
Senators coach Bryan Murray credited the Sabres’ defensive effort as being the difference. Ottawa managed just six shots in the final 16 minutes.
“We tried,” Murray said. “The guys had the puck and had a flurry for a couple of shifts, but not consistently.”
Notes: Retired defenceman Phil Housley was inducted into the Sabres’ Hall of Fame in a pre-game ceremony. Drafted sixth overall by Buffalo in 1982, Housley played eight seasons with the Sabres and still ranks as the team’s most productive defenceman with 558 points. The native of St. Paul, Minn., retired in 2003 with 1,232 points (338 goals, 894 assists), most among American-born players. … Sabres D Jaroslav Spacek missed his third straight game with a knee injury. … Ottawa penalty-killers went 3-for-4 and allowed only their seventh power-play goal in their past 20 games, a stretch in which they’ve killed off 75 of 82 attempts.