The Sabres' top gun scored twice and added two assists as Buffalo held off the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 on Friday night before a full house at the First Niagara Center.
The Sabres had scored just 14 times in seven games before their Vanek-led outburst.
"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."
The four-point game was the fourth of Vanek's career, but his first since April 10, 2010.
Tyler Ennis had a goal and an assist, Drew Stafford scored his 100th NHL goal and Andrej Sekera also connected for Buffalo, which finished a season-high five-game homestand with a 2-1-2 record. The Sabres (16-12-3) visit Pittsburgh on Saturday..
The Sabres trailed 2-1 midway through the second period before scoring three unanswered goals, two on the power play --for a 4-2 lead. Toronto took five penalties in the second, and all but six seconds of the final 7:03 of the middle period saw one team on the power play.
"Our power play was effective, and we were able to score on our opportunities," Vanek said. "Sometimes that's half the challenge for us."
Ennis' power-play goal at 14:08 of the second broke a 2-2 tie. Sekera's goal at 18:01 came after Phaneuf was handed a five-minute major for boarding and ejected for checking Zach 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."
Kulemin converted his penalty shot at 9:56 of the third after he was tripped by Jordan Leopold on a breakaway to make it 4-3. But Vanek got his second goal of the night with 4:16 to go, and it turned into the game-winner when Grabovski scored 31 seconds later.
"It's good that we had positive reaction to that penalty shot," said goalie Ryan Miller, who made 29 saves. "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 passout for a power-play goal.
Toronto went ahead again on Phaneuf's power-play goal at 9:03, but Vanek tied it 19 seconds later when he wristed in a shot from the lower left circle.
Ennis scored during a 5-on-3 power play before Sekera scored during Phaneuf's major penalty.
"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."
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."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
1 - 0 TOR