Winning back-to-back games for the first time in 11 weeks should have left the Buffalo Sabres smiling. Instead, they headed home after Tuesday night's win in Montreal minus their leading scorer.
Thomas Vanek wasn't around to celebrate the 3-1 victory -- he suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and didn't return for the second.
Losing Vanek took away some of the enjoyment for the Sabres as they prepare to host the New York Rangers on Wednesday in their first home game since Jan. 13 following a seven-game trip.
"The sense of winning was great," coach Lindy Ruff said. "The sense of losing Thomas to another injury is something that you just shake your head as a coach again. You're trying to gain ground. You're trying to move up. You're trying to put a little streak together, and we lose another important piece.
"He's going to be out for a period of time. ... Our initial thought is maybe a week, but our doctor is going to have to evaluate it. It's the type of injury we're going to have to dig a little deeper on."
In Vanek's absence, Paul Gaustad stepped up with a pair of assists and the game-winning goal. Ryan Miller added 27 saves for the Sabres (21-24-5), who won their second straight road game after a stretch in which they lost 12 in a row away from First Niagara Center. Buffalo beat New Jersey 2-1 on Jan. 24 in its last game before the break.
"It's always good to get a win on the road. We just have to turn it around quickly and quit patting ourselves on the back and go out and get the next one," Gaustad said.
Ville Leino and Patrick Kaleta also scored for Buffalo.
After Max Pacioretty's first-period goal gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead, Buffalo got even when Gaustad set up Leino for his fourth goal of the season 4:01 into the second period. Off a drop-off from Gaustad, Leino used a toe drag to gain the slot on defenseman Raphael Diaz, then fired a wrister past Carey Price from just inside the left circle.
Gaustad broke the tie at 6:17 of the third period. After the Canadiens failed to clear the puck, Brad Boyes skated to the right of the crease, turned and fired across the crease. Gaustad made himself available on the back post to deflect the puck past Price.
Gaustad got his third point of the night when Kaleta finished into an open net at 19:08 of the third. It was Gaustad's first three-point night since Dec. 9, 2010.
Tempers flared between Gaustad and the Canadiens after Kaleta's goal.
"He's got a big mouth and he likes to run it, so what can we do?" Price said. "You can't worry about what he's got to say because he doesn't do much out there."
The loss was a tough one for Montreal (19-21-10), who entered the break riding a 2-0-1 stretch, including a 7-2 rout of Detroit last Wednesday. This time, Buffalo controlled much of the final 40 minutes, and without 37 saves from Price, the margin could have been much wider.
"Pricer was unbelievable to keep us in it for as long as he could,” Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth said. “Obviously simple plays like throwing pucks through the crease, things we did the night before, we didn't do tonight. Those are the simple things that you have to do.”
Early in the game, it looked as if Montreal might continue its strong play when Pacioretty notched his 18th of the season. Tyler Myers' wild shot flew around the boards to mid-ice, where Pacioretty was waiting to take it the other way. With only Matt Ellis to beat, Pacioretty flicked the puck off the boards, rounded Ellis and raced in alone on Miller. He stopped the initial shot, but Pacioretty put the rebound under the goaltender's right pad at 4:09.
Miller was at his best in the third period, making 13 saves in his 234th victory -- tying Dominik Hasek's franchise record.
"It's one of those things you kind of smile about looking back later on," Miller said. "I'm going to take it for what it is because I think Dom would have won a few shootouts in his day."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report.