The NHL's leading scorer jammed home his second goal of the game with 1.9 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game, and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in a shootout at First Niagara Center on Thursday night.
Vanek has 21 points in the 10 games he's played and has a point in all but one game this season. His 10 goals also lead the NHL.
"He's got the knack. He knows where to go, and when he's riding a hot stretch, sometimes he's unstoppable," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
With teammates Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott all crashing the net, Vanek broke free from Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec and, as he fell to his knees, put the puck past a swarm of bodies and behind Montreal goaltender Peter Budaj.
Captain Jason Pominville's goal in the top of the third round of the shootout gave the Sabres the extra point.
Until Vanek's goal, it looked like the Canadiens were going to leave Buffalo with two points. Montreal took a 3-2 lead with 1:08 to play in the second period on a 5-on-3 power-play goal by defenseman P.K. Subban.
The Canadiens power play deftly moved the puck around the Buffalo zone to set up Subban's go-ahead goal. Max Pacioretty fed defenseman Andrei Markov near the top of the faceoff circle, and Markov who then one-touched it over to Subban, whose one-timer knocked the water bottle off the top of the net. Subban has points in each of the four games he has played this season after re-signing with the Canadiens.
Buffalo failed to convert on four power-play opportunities in the second period, including a 46-second 5-on-3 chance. The Sabres finished 1-for-7 in 11:14 of power-play time. Budaj made two big saves on Vanek in the second to help kill off that 5-on-3 shorthanded situation.
"We had a lot of chances, myself included in the second," Vanek said. "We could've had two or three and I just thought to myself, 'Maybe it's one of those nights,' but we just kept going and at the end, I got rewarded. As a team, we got two points that we really needed."
Plekanec finished with two goals. Rene Bourque had two assists and Budaj made 36 saves in his second start of the season.
Montreal gave up two third-period goals in its 2-1 loss to Boston on Wednesday, and Plekanec said the Canadiens must find ways to hold onto leads.
"We had the lead and we were holding on to it until the end," Plekanec said. "We have to somehow find a way to win those tied games in the end and look to make plays."
Ennis (a goal and two assists), Foligno (two assists) and Ott (a goal and an assist) all had multi-point nights for the Sabres. Miller finished with 28 saves.
Vanek also scored in the first round of the shootout.
"I actually wrote '26' three times and then I had to scribble out a couple," Ruff joked after the game.
The Sabres avoided their longest regulation-losing streak since they went 0-5-0 during a stretch in January 2012.
The Canadiens struck first 4:11 into the game on a goal from Plekanec. Bourque won a battle at the blue line and tapped the puck up to Plekanec, who took one stride and ripped a shot into the top corner over Miller's right shoulder.
The Sabres tied the game 15 seconds on Ott's second of the season. Jochen Hecht spun around with the puck in the corner to Budaj's left and swung a pass in front to Ott, whose 20-footer trickled past Budaj and into the net.
Miller stopped Bourque on a breakaway with just under 14 minutes to play in the second period to keep the score tied 1-1. Bourque, streaking out of the penalty box, failed to convert on a wrist shot from 15 feet out as Miller kicked out his right pad.
Ruff looked to that save as one that helped Miller and the team remain confident.
"You've got to start somewhere and to lock it down at the end for us, it was big," Ruff said. "I thought that was a big moment for him, too, and a big moment for us because big saves change the swing of a game and I thought that was one there that kind of lifted the bench."
Forward Brendan Gallagher gave Montreal a 2-1 lead with 7:29 to play in the second period with his fourth goal of the season. In the corner to Miller's left, forward Brandon Prust found Gallagher, who leaned into a wrist shot that beat Miller.
The Sabres again tied the game on the next shift. Foligno muscled the puck through the neutral zone along the boards by the penalty boxes and hit Ennis in stride. Ennis raced in and chipped the puck past Budaj only 35 seconds after Montreal's go-ahead goal.
Vanek scored 25 seconds into a four-minute power play at 7:57 of the third period to make it a 4-3 game. With teammates crashing the net, Vanek put a backhander into a virtually empty net to bring Buffalo within one goal. Montreal's Ryan White took a four-minute roughing penalty that gave the Sabres the long power play. At that point, Buffalo's power play had been 0-for-5 on the night.
"Obviously it was just a selfish play. I thought he went kind of low on me and that's what [Ott] does," White said. "He's a good player at that, he's smart at what he does out there and, you know, I just kind of reacted the wrong way again obviously and cost my team another two points."
Ott drew White into the penalty at the end of their shift.
"We just tried to be physical," Ott said. "Obviously he thought, I don't want to engage in something like that and we got a lucky couple power plays. The power play went right to work."
Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff returned to the lineup after missing Buffalo's previous game with a muscle strain.
Defensemen Andrej Sekera (foot), Adam Pardy (healthy) and forward Matt Ellis (healthy) were scratched for Buffalo. Defensemen Tomas Kaberle (healthy) and Yannick Weber (healthy) and forward Travis Moen (lower body) were scratched for Montreal.