Vanek powers Sabres past reeling Lightning

BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) — Thomas Vanek recorded his
NHL-leading 21st and 22nd goals in the second period as the
Buffalo Sabres overcame an early two-goal deficit and handed the
Tampa Bay Lightning their ninth straight defeat with a 4-2
triumph on Wednesday.

Drew Stafford netted a power-play goal, Jason Pominville added
an empty-net goal and two assists and Ryan Miller made 26 saves
for Buffalo, which has won three in a row.

“I said this after we won two in a row,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff
said. “Someone said, ‘Have you turned the corner?’ I said,
‘You turn the corner and the next thing you face is another

Martin St. Louis and Mark Recchi scored and Mike Smith turned
aside 33 shots for Tampa Bay, which fell to 0-7-2 in its last
nine games and 1-7-4 since firing coach Barry Melrose on
November 14.

“When things are going the wrong way, you have to not so much
play perfect, but you gotta play a smart game,” Lightning
interim coach Rick Tocchet said.

“When you go nine, 10 games without a win, it really wears on
players – and it’s no different tonight,” Smith added. “I’ve
been on some pretty bad teams, but this is definitely right up
there with the toughest stretch (of my career) – definitely in
the NHL, I can tell you that.”

After leveling the contest with 8:08 remaining in the second
period with a goal on a breakaway, Vanek gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead
with 15 seconds remaining in the session, accepting a feed on
the doorstep and backhanding the puck just under the crossbar.

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“It’s not what we want to do, but in the end, it’s nice to get a
win,” Vanek said of his team scoring four unanswered goals. “I
thought the last 50 minutes, we played well and deserved to

For the 24-year-old Austrian, it was his 15th goal in 15 career
games against the Lightning. It also capped his sixth
multi-goal effort of the season.

Vanek entered the contest tied with Jeff Carter of the
Philadelphia Flyers for the league lead in tallies.

After Tampa Bay scored twice in just under a six-minute span in
the latter half of the first, Stafford halved the deficit with
38 seconds remaining in the period by deflecting defenseman
Jaroslav Spacek’s wrist shot from the left point past Smith
during a power play.

“We really had to battle back after a tough start,” Miller said.
“I thought it was one of our better home games after we got our
feet under us.”

“I think we just started off bad,” Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad said.
“That’s something that we’ve had a problem with sometimes in
this season, but I think we showed a lot of character coming
back. Sometimes we have bad starts and then haven’t followed up
through it.”

Pominville scored with 13 seconds remaining in the third to seal
the win for the Sabres.

“Each game is a new day, and it seems like we’re getting the
same result. We can’t have that,” Tampa Bay’s Ryan Craig said.