BOSTON – One of the hottest players in the NHL lit up TD Garden on Thursday night to snap his team out of a cold spell.
Thomas Vanek scored a hat trick and added two assists for his second five-point game of the season to lead the Sabres to a 7-4 win against the Boston Bruins and snap Buffalo's four-game winless streak.
Boston lost in regulation for the first time this season.
The victory was Buffalo's first in Boston since March 10, 2011. Vanek now has six goals (good for second in the League) and nine assists for 15 points in just six games this season. He has eight career hat tricks overall and 54 points (28 goals) in 46 career games against the Bruins.
"I don't know. Statistics, you know?" Vanek said about success against Boston. "You can call them what you want, but they're just that. For us it's a big win."
The Sabres were down 3-1 at one point in the second period and trailed 4-3 early in the third. Considering the Bruins had won their previous 43 games that they held a two-goal lead dating back to April 4, 2011, things looked bleak for the Sabres.
However, Buffalo battled back.
Cody Hodgson put Buffalo ahead to stay when he scored at 6:54 of the third on a one-timer at the end of a 2-on-1 with Vanek for a 5-4 lead. Vanek then extended the Sabres' lead to 6-4 by scoring his third goal of the night with just 1:31 remaining. Jason Pominville added an empty-net goal.
"I think team toughness is when you get down by two, you don't hang your head, you don't pout, you just keep playing your game, and I think we did that today," Vanek said.
Ryan Miller finished with 38 saves for Buffalo. Tuukka Rask stopped just 25 of 31 shots he faced for the Bruins, who are generally known for their stingy defense.
"We gave up a lot of odd-man rushes, and then those 2-on-1s, just a quick pass to the back door and one-timers in," Rask said. "Obviously, we have to get better on that. Too many times, I think, we just let those guys stand in front of the net by themselves. The puck watching, it's not like us, so we just got to fix that."
After a scoreless first period, both teams' offense erupted in the second, led by Boston's Brad Marchand and Vanek. The Buffalo forward kicked things off at 1:38 with a one-timer from the left hash mark at the end of a 2-on-1 with Hodgson. The Bruins scored the next three goals, starting with Rich Peverley's first score of the season 5:12 into the second and then goals by Marchand at 7:43 and 10:54.
Before the period was over, however, Buffalo had tied the score at 3-3. Vanek cashed in during a 5-on-3 power play and Tyler Ennis tied the game off a feed from Vanek, who was falling down as he made the pass to the front of the net.
David Krejci opened the third-period at 1:45 in to give Boston the lead, but Alexander Sulzer scored on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle at 2:28. Then Vanek went to work setting up Hodgson for the game-winner and scoring the insurance goal.
"I can't deny that," Vanek said when asked if he's currently playing his best hockey. "Pucks are going in right now for me, and with Pominville, I've always had good chemistry, and Cody fits right in. Again, there's going to be stretches where nothing goes, so you like it right now, but eventually it's going to hit the other way. So you just leave the game here today, and it's a new day tomorrow."
While there was no scoring in the first period, the expected physical fireworks went off just 2:53 into the contest when Boston's Shawn Thornton and Buffalo's John Scott dropped the gloves. Scott, playing in his first Boston-Buffalo showdown, landed a couple of blows before Thornton fell to end the brief bout. Thornton left the game and did not return. There was no update on his condition available after the game.
"I think it's what happens. It's a square-off of two tough guys in the building," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Somebody said they were talking in warmup. I didn't really anticipate what was going to happen. John has provided us some team toughness and it's spilled off onto other guys. He did a nice job for us. I thought the rest of the game was just a hard-fought game."