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Vrbata's hat trick leads Canucks past Sabres

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks were desperate for something, anything, to finally go their way.

They got that break when a rebound bounced right to Radim Vrbata in front of an empty net eight minutes into the game against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. It was what Vrbata needed to jump start his first hat trick since joining the Canucks as a free agent before last season and help Vancouver end a five-game losing streak with a 5-2 win at Rogers Arena.

"It always helps when on your first or second shift you get an open net like that," Vrbata said. "Then you get a tip there and it seems like everything's falling in place."

Vrbata used that tip from the slot to score his second goal and put the Canucks ahead for good with 3:13 left in the first period. He completed his sixth career hat trick with 5:32 left, taking a pass from Adam Cracknell out of the corner and quickly putting a low shot past Linus Ullmark's blocker from the right faceoff circle.

It was Vrbata's first three-goal game since Oct. 3, 2013 while playing for the Arizona Coyotes, and the Canucks' fourth win in 17 games dating back to early November.

"It is a big relief, something positive you want to build off," Vrbata said. "That hasn't happened much this year. This can help you going forward, for me individually and as a group for everybody."

Ryan Miller made 32 saves against his former team, Henrik Sedin had a power-play goal and Brandon Prust scored his first goal for the Canucks and first in 50 games for Vancouver (10-11-8), which won at home for the fourth time in 13 games.

"We needed it," Vrbata said, "to feel a little better about ourselves."

Brian Gionta and Sam Reinhart scored and Ullmark made 26 saves for the Sabres (11-14-3), who were coming off a 4-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. Buffalo came into this three-game Western Canada road trip, which wraps up against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, on a 3-0-1 streak before losing the first two games.

"We want better within this room and we know we are capable of that, so that's why it's so disappointing," Gionta said. "We gotta find ways not to shoot ourselves in the foot and right now we're doing that, whether it's too many men on the ice or a bad penalty at a bad time, not getting power play momentum, things like that are hurting us."

The game started well, with Gionta opening the scoring 6:48 into the first period after Jamie McGinn's centering pass bounced up off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Ben Hutton and Gionta batted it out of the air and over Miller. The goal counted after a video review determined Gionta's stick wasn't above the crossbar when it made contact with the puck, and the assist extended McGinn's point streak to six games, a career-high.

Vrbata tied it on the fortunate rebound bounce 80 seconds later, and the Sabres seemed to come undone after a too many men on the ice penalty three minutes after that.

Vancouver had an apparent goal called off shortly after the power play expired because the whistle blew before the puck went in. But the Canucks, who had been shut out twice in their previous four games and held below 20 shots in three straight, seemed to get momentum from their power play and Vrbata scored again five minutes later.

"We end up taking too many penalties," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "They were 1-for-6 in the game but were real dominant with their power play and we gave them too many opportunities to do it. They got momentum and carried the play because of it."

Promoted to the top line with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin for a shift, Vrbata redirected a Dan Hamhuis point shot from the slot up and over Ullmark's glove at 16:42 of the first period. Vrbata, who led the Canucks with 31 goals last season, scored three in his first 19 games this season but has six goals in his past eight games.

Prust made it 3-1 at 4:34 of the second period after a nice pass from Derek Dorsett behind the net, one-timing it between Ullmark's legs for his first goal since scoring against the Sabres on Feb. 3 while playing for the Montreal Canadiens.

"Hopefully the floodgates open and I can get some more," Prust said.

Henrik Sedin tipped a pass from Alexander Edler between Ullmark's legs on a 4-on-3 per play with 2:42 left in the second period. But Reinhart, whose father, Paul Reinart, played for the Canucks from 1988-1990, closed the gap 1:51 into the third.

"It gave us a little more jump the rest of the period, but it would have been nice to have it a little earlier," said Reinhart, who had two suites of friends and family at his first game in his hometown. "It was fun, but it would have been nice to have a different result."

Ryan O'Reilly fought off a check at the side of the net and while falling he slid the puck out front to Reinhart, who one-timed his eighth goal over Miller's blocker. The assist extended O’Reilly’s point streak to five games, but he was more concerned with how his team played, gathering players at the bench during the second period.

"We came out with good jump, we were executing and I think we caught them a bit off guard and then once that (too many men) penalty happened we sat back and deviated from our game plan and didn't know what to do with their speed and it killed us," O'Reilly said. "The power play gives their good players time and they are going to find their confidence and start to make plays and they gained so much momentum off that."

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