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Thomas Vanek scores twice in Sabres' 4-2 win over Lightning

BUFFALO, N.Y. - When the Buffalo Sabres need a big goal this season, they turn to Thomas Vanek.

Vanek scored twice, including his league-leading 22nd goal, in Buffalo's 4-2 comeback win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, the Lightning's ninth straight defeat.

Two nights after scoring the winner in the third period against Pittsburgh, Vanek snapped a 2-2 second-period tie with his second goal of the game on the power play, sending the Sabres to their third straight win.

"It's just a testament to how talented he really is," said Drew Stafford, who also scored for Buffalo. "When he gets opportunities, we have a lot of faith that he's going to bury those."

Down by a pair of goals after Mark Recchi scored for Tampa Bay with less than four minutes left in the first period, the Sabres scored four unanswered goals over the final 41 minutes to beat the Lightning for the second time this week.

"Being behind is not what we want to do, but in the end it's nice to get a win," Vanek said. "We started out slow, but then played well and deserved to win."

Jason Pominville added a goal and two assists, and Ryan Miller made 26 saves in his fifth straight start for Buffalo (14-11-3).

Miller kept the Sabres within striking distance with back-to-back breakaway saves on rookie Steven Stamkos and Radek Smolenak in the second period before Vanek scored twice in an 8-minute span to end the period.

"I don't think there's enough good things to say about his game right now," Pominville said about Vanek. "I've seen him score in so many ways. He's playing really well."

Martin St. Louis also scored for Tampa Bay (6-14-8), which built a 2-0 first-period lead by coming out strong and taking the physical play to the Sabres. The Lightning, the worst team in the league with 20 points, dropped to 0-7-2 during their current drought.

Tampa Bay is 1-7-4 since firing Barry Melrose in mid-November.

"It's very frustrating for me that we don't have guys willing to stand in front of the net on a consistent basis," said Rick Tocchet, who replaced Melrose. "Maybe we are asking guys to do things they are not capable of doing."

Mike Smith made 33 stops, including several acrobatic saves that kept the game close in the second period.

"I don't have anything else to say. After every game it seems like it's the same thing," said Smith, who was making his eighth straight appearance. "Tonight we had some opportunities and we don't capitalize, and before you know it we're down and we're trying to claw back."

The Lightning opened the scoring on St. Louis' eighth of the season midway through the first period. From the right circle, St. Louis one-timed Stamkos' pass past Miller.

Tampa Bay made it 2-0 six minutes later after Recchi banged home a rebound of Paul Ranger's slap shot for his seventh goal.

Buffalo closed the gap with 38 seconds left in the first period when Stafford cruised into the high slot before redirecting Jaroslav Spacek's pass on the power play.

Vanek tied it with 8 minutes left in the second period, scoring on a breakaway after a slick pass from Ales Kotalik, then gave Buffalo its first lead with a nifty backhand from in tight with 25 seconds to go.

Pominville capped the scoring with an empty-net short-handed goal with 13 seconds left in regulation.

"After the first 10 minutes we started playing better and better and then got the momentum," he said. "I think that's when we kind of took control."

Notes: President Clinton was in attendance as a guest of Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano. ... Tampa Bay right wing Adam Hall was scratched because of an upper-body injury, and Zenon Konopka was recalled from Norfolk of the AHL on an emergency basis. Konopka didn't get to the arena until after the game had started, and missed most of the first period. ... Lightning forward Ryan Malone missed his third straight game because of an upper-body injury. ... It was Vanek's sixth two-goal game this season. ... Buffalo has won two of the three games this season against the Lightning.



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