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Vanek scores 20th in Sabres' win over Pens

by Brian Compton /
Thomas Vanek could care less about leading the NHL in goals. The Buffalo Sabres forward is more concerned with winning games.

But the highly-skilled Vanek accomplished both on Monday night, as his 20th goal of the season at 6:13 of the third period broke a 3-3 tie. When it was all said and done, the Sabres rallied from two goals down to earn a hard-fought 4-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena.

The Sabres have won two in a row after snapping out of a stretch of losing eight of 10. Derek Roy, Ales Kotalik and Daniel Paille also scored for Buffalo.

''I really don't think about my goal total too much,'' Vanek said. ''It's not important. What's more important is that we got the win here and that we've got to keep winning.''

The loss left Pens coach Michel Therrien in a foul mood. Not only did his impressive offense go 1-for-8 on the power play, but Monday also marked the first time Pittsburgh has lost back-to-back games since Oct. 28-30.

Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals for the Penguins, while Evgeni Malkin had a pair of assists. Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Maxime Talbot were all minus-3, and Jordan Staal failed to record a shot on goal in more than 25 minutes of ice time.

Nonetheless, the Pens had a 3-1 lead when Letang notched his first goal of the season 91 seconds into the second period. Things went downhill from there.

''At 3-1, we started to play horribly,'' Therrien said. ''It was a horrible performance. That's the truth. The power play is not good. We are trying to be too cute.''

Vanek's goal was a tap-in of a pass from Jason Pominville while he stood in the low left slot. He is the first player to get to 20 goals this season, as he moved ahead of Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeff Carter, who has 19.

It's a tremendous turnaround for Vanek, who did not score his 10th goal until his 31st game and did not tally his 20th until his 56th contest last season. With 20 goals in 27 games in 2008-09, he is on pace for 60 goals. Washington's Alex Ovechkin scored his 20th goal in his 27th game last season and ended up with 65 tallies.

Vanek got some help from his goaltender on Monday night, as Ryan Miller stopped 20 of 21 shots over the final two periods. Buffalo has rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Pens twice in the last 11 days. The Sabres won both contests by a 4-3 score.

The Penguins enjoyed 3:35 of two-man advantage time during the game over three stretches, including a full two minutes midway through the second that could have given them a 4-2 lead. But they failed to convert.

"It's great," Vanek said. "Against a skilled team like that, to come back from a two-goal deficit, you've got to give a lot of credit to everyone. I think 5-on-5 we outworked them and outplayed them. They got their chances 5-on-3, but Miller played great back there and kept us in it. In the end, it was a huge win for us."

The Pens were able to put an end to some slumps, as Letang's goal was his first power-play tally in 82 games. Fedotenko enjoyed his first two-goal game since Feb. 14, when he was playing for the New York Islanders.

''We played really good in the first period, we got a lead, and we just couldn't hold on to it,'' Fedotenko said.

Paille's goal came after the Sabres had killed the 2-minute, two-man advantage, With 5:11 left in the second, he slammed home a loose puck from the slot past Pens goalie Dany Sabourin for his first goal in 13 games.

"I thought our penalty killers did a good job,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. ''We put ourselves in a pretty tight spot, let them have some 5-on-3s. There was some real good desperation.''

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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