With top spot in the Eastern Conference already secured, the Sabres rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Boston Bruins 4-2 Thursday night. Thomas Vanek scored twice and added an assist, and goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 22 shots to win his 39th and set a franchise record – one ahead of the mark set by Don Edwards in 1977-78.
Better still for the Sabres, Buffalo moved into a tie for first place in the overall NHL standings, after West-leading Detroit lost 3-2 in shootout at Chicago.
All in all, it was an entertaining way for Buffalo to close out its home season.
“Ah, I don’t think we’ve panicked all year,” Vanek said. “You look at our offensive firepower and you’re not allowed to panic. And then you have a goalie like Miller back there, when we give up two as a team, we know we can win 3-2, 4-2 like we did tonight.”
It marked the 10th time Buffalo has won by overcoming a two-goal deficit, and it provided a fitting bookend after the Sabres opened their home schedule by twice rallying from two-goal deficits to beat Montreal 5-4 in a shootout in October.
“It shows good character,” Miller said. “We feel like we’re in every hockey game. As long as we can stay close and stay composed.”
The Sabres almost made it look easy in beating a Bruins team that lost its fifth straight and was already eliminated from playoff contention.
The key was Ales Kotalik’s goal, which came 21 seconds after Patrice Bergeron scored to give Boston a 2-0 lead. Vanek tied the game before the first period was over, and then scored the go-ahead goal by capping a great individual effort 4:26 into the third period.
Getting to a loose puck at his own blue-line, Vanek streaked up the right wing ahead of defender Dennis Wideman. Approaching the Bruins’ net, Vanek cut in front by outmuscling Wideman and then slipped a shot in through the legs of Hannu Toivonen.
“In the third period, they turned it up a bit and we just didn’t respond,” Bruins coach Dave Lewis said.
Then again, Lewis added, the Sabres “are a pretty powerful team.”
Andrew Ference also scored for Boston, which dropped to 1-9-1 in its past 11 games.
The Sabres, by comparison, are on a roll, improving to 8-2-1 in their past 11.
With two weekend road games left, Buffalo (52-21-7) has already matched its win total from last season. They upped their league-leading total of goals scored to 303.
The Sabres are also getting healthier, welcoming back Maxim Afinogenov, who played his first game after missing 21 with a broken left wrist.
Afinogenov, who assisted on Derek Roy’s goal, showed he hadn’t lost a step midway through the second period, when he got around Ference and cut to the front of the net before having his sharp backhander stopped by Toivonen.
Afinogenov forgot all about the injury after his first shift ended when Ference opened the scoring.
“For the first game it was OK, but I had the one mistake on the first shift,” Afinogenov said. “But after that, I think I played pretty well.”
Miller was solid, too, stopping all 11 shots he faced after allowing two goals. His biggest save came in the second period, when he got across to rob Ference, set up for a one-timer at the right post.
Miller is looking ahead to the playoffs, and would gladly trade his 39 wins for 16 in the postseason. He’s ready.
“I don’t want to call it playoff mode because I don’t think we need to change anything,” Miller said. “I don’t want these guys thinking that we have to hit a switch. There’s no switch. It’s just what we do.”
Notes: Vanek became the first Sabres player to score 42 since 1992-93, when Alexander Mogilny scored 76 goals and Pat LaFontaine added 53. … Bruins RW Mark Mowers sat out after hurting his shoulder at Montreal on Tuesday. … The Sabres became the fourth NHL team in the past 30 years to win 10 games in which they trailed by two goals. Carolina did it 10 times last year, while Edmonton, in 1983-84, and Hartford, in 1985-86, accomplished the feat 12 times.