BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Buffalo Sabres regained some of their lost scoring touch thanks to their offensive leader.
Thomas Vanek had two goals and two assists and Tyler Ennis added a goal and an assist to help lift the Sabres to a 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.
Vanek’s fourth four-point game of his career—and first since April 10, 2010 at Ottawa—helped the Sabres snap out of a slumber in which they had scored just 14 times in their previous seven games.
“We need to get our swagger back, especially when we have the lead,” said Vanek, who leads the Sabres with 16 goals. “Sometimes that’s all it takes. There’s no miracle to it. Everyone here is a good player, so when we get the lead we have to go for the next one and bury a team. We didn’t quite do that, but I think it was a step in the right direction.”
Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera also scored, and Ryan Miller made 29 saves for the Sabres (16-12-3), who won for the third time in six games to finish a season-high five-game homestand with a 2-1-2 mark.
Down by a goal midway through the second period, Buffalo scored three straight times—including two power-play goals—to take a 4-2 lead. Toronto committed five penalties in the second, and over the final 7:03 of the period the teams played 5-on-5 for just 6 seconds.
“Our power play was effective, and we were able to score on our opportunities,” Vanek said. “Sometimes that’s half the challenge for us.”
Nikolai Kulemin scored on a penalty shot in the third period, and Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, and Mikhail Grabovski also scored for Toronto (16-12-3), which has dropped three of four (1-2-1).
Sekera’s goal came with just under two minutes to go in the second, after Phaneuf was handed a five-minute major for boarding and ejected for checking Zack Kassian into the end boards from behind.
“I didn’t mean to board him,” Phaneuf said. “I went in to finish my check and the puck got caught along the boards. He turned right at the last second.”
James Reimer made 24 saves in his fourth straight start for the Maple Leafs, who had their three-game winning streak against Buffalo snapped.
“I don’t think I made enough saves,” he said. “I feel like I let down the guys that worked their butts off. They scored four goals and that should be enough to at least get a point.”
Kulemin converted his penalty shot at 9:56 of the third after he was tripped by a sliding Jordan Leopold while on a breakaway to make it 4-3.
Vanek pushed Buffalo’s lead to 5-3 on his second of the game with 4:16 to go, but Grabovski made it 5-4 just 31 seconds later.
From there, the Sabres were able to lock things down despite Reimer being pulled for the extra attacker with over a minute left in regulation.
“It’s good that we had positive reaction to that penalty shot,” Miller said. “To answer quickly keeps them out of their comfort zone.”
After a scoreless first period, the Maple Leafs struck first on Lupul’s 14th goal 1:49 into the second. On a 2-on-1 rush with Phil Kessel, Lupul took Kessel’s pass in the left circle before flicking the puck over Miller.
Stafford tied it 2 1/2 minutes later when he tapped in Vanek’s pass in tight on the power play.
Toronto made it 2-1 on Phaneuf’s power-play goal at 9:03 of the second, but Vanek tied it 19 seconds later when he fired a wrist shot past Reimer from the lower portion of the left circle.
Ennis gave the Sabres their first lead, 3-2, with a goal with just under six minutes left in the second with Buffalo on a two-man advantage before Sekera gave Buffalo a two-goal edge heading into the third.
“We’ve taken far too many penalties in the last two or three weeks,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “Penalty killers taking penalties doesn’t give you a chance.”
NOTES: The Sabres recalled LW Colin Stuart from Rochester (AHL). … Buffalo LW Ville Leino missed his first game and is out indefinitely after sustaining a lower body injury Tuesday against Ottawa. … Buffalo is still without seven regulars. … The teams will meet again in Toronto on Thursday. … Vanek and Sabres C Derek Roy played in their 500th NHL game. … Stafford’s goal was his 100th in the NHL. … Miller has stopped 12 of 14 penalty shots in his career. … Toronto hadn’t scored on a penalty shot since Dec. 26, 2006, when John Pohl connected against Minnesota.