BUFFALO, N.Y. - Stung by the cascade of boos that rained from the crowd at the end of the second period, Sabres forward Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo fans something big to cheer about in the third.
Vanek scored three consecutive goals in less than eight minutes, including the winner with 6:46 remaining, as Buffalo scored six third-period goals in a 7-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.
"It's a good thing they stuck around," Vanek said, referring to the fans after helping the Sabres rally from a 4-1 deficit. "We didn't make it easy for us, but it's good to know we can come back."
Besides winning their third straight and overcoming a three-goal deficit for the first time since a 5-4 win against Toronto last March 23, the Sabres also stayed firmly in playoff contention. Buffalo inched to within a point of idle Philadelphia, which holds the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
The Sabres also jumped back into ninth place, a point ahead of Washington after the Capitals' 5-0 loss at Chicago later in the evening.
Jason Pominville had two goals and two assists and Jochen Hecht also scored twice in the third period of a game the Sabres initially had no business winning after mustering just 16 shots through 40 minutes.
"These games are always fun," Pominville said. "I think we enjoyed it, I'm sure the fans enjoyed it, but it's not the way we wanted to win."
It's not the first time Buffalo overcame a deficit in sweeping the four-game season series against the Lightning. The Sabres twice rallied from two-goal deficits to beat Tampa Bay, including their last meeting, a 4-3 overtime decision on Feb. 20, when Vanek also scored three times.
No need to remind the Lightning, who are in last place in the East in part because of their difficulty to finish games. Tampa Bay has now been outscored 104-67 in the third period, and lost 19 games when leading or tied entering the final frame.
"You can write the same story as the last time we were here: Third-period collapse," said Martin St. Louis, who had a goal and assist. "It's a bad feeling."
Vincent Lecavalier scored twice, including his 39th, and appeared to put the Lightning in full control - up 4-1 - late in the second period when he capped a 2-on-1 rush, converting Junior Lessard's pass.
Back came the Sabres, who scored six times on their final 10 shots, including Hecht's empty-net goal in the waning seconds.
Vanek tied the game at 4 at the 8:25 mark of the third, when he deflected in Derek Roy's shot from the left circle. Vanek then scored the go-ahead goal five minutes later.
Roy, who finished with three assists, set it up, beating defender Shane O'Brien to the puck in the right corner, and fed Vanek in the high slot. Vanek sidestepped Lessard, and snapped a low shot that sneaked inside the right post past screened goalie Karri Ramo.
"By far, tonight was the best comeback, given the time of year and how important this game was," Pominville said. "This was the best comeback I've ever been a part of."
It was Pominville who started the rally, scoring 5:03 into the third when he poked in Paul Gaustad's centring feed after Gaustad won a faceoff to the left of the Lightning net. Hecht scored 16 seconds later with a snap shot from the right circle after eluding Lecavalier in the corner.
"Everything just went their way," said Ramo, who made 25 saves, but received little support in the third period when the Lightning were outshot 16-4. "Everything just went in the net."
Jeff Halpern, extending his point streak to five games (four goals, four assists), also scored for the Lightning, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
Tampa Bay also lost defenceman Paul Ranger, who didn't return after hurting his left shoulder with 8:06 left in the game. Ranger was hurt when he was checked from behind by Buffalo's Daniel Paille while chasing a loose puck in the corner of the Lightning zone.
Notes: Sabres G Ryan Miller appeared in his 27th straight game, and his 69th of the season, four short of setting the Sabres' single-season record shared by Don Edwards (1977-78), Dominik Hasek (1997-98) and Martin Biron (2001-02). . ... Sabres D Teppo Numminen will rejoin the team on Thursday after being cleared for practice six months after the 39-year-old had open-heart surgery. ... St. Louis' first-period goal marked his 500th career point, coming in his 599th game.