MONTREAL -- Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux made NHL history on December 31, 1988 against New Jersey, becoming the first player in league history to score a goal in all five possible game situations in the same night: even strength, power play, shorthanded, penalty shot and an empty netter. In hockey lore, Lemieux’s achievement is simply referred to as “Five Goals, Five Ways.” Thomas Vanek’s five-point performance in Boston last night didn’t make NHL history, but it was equally as impressive.
Vanek torched the previously-unbeaten Bruins with his eighth career hat trick and added a pair of assists on crucial goals in the game. It was his second five-point game this season, ironically making him the first player since Lemieux in 1992-93 to score five or more points twice in his team’s first seven games. He’s also the first Sabre with two five-point games in one season since that same 1992-93 campaign, when Pat LaFontaine (six times) and Alexander Mogilny (three) both had multiple five-point performances. Vanek currently leads the league with 15 points (6+9) in six games, and was named as the NHL’s Third Star for the month of January.
What made Vanek’s performance so memorable last night was not just the sum of the parts; it was the impact each point had on the game. These weren’t your run of the mill secondary assists or cheap goals. Every single goal and assist had a direct bearing on the outcome of the game. These weren't just moments in a game, they were defining moments. Don’t believe me? Let’s break each one down:
Point #1: Goal (2nd period, 1:38)
The two teams played a scoreless first period, with Boston holding a decisive 14-9 edge in shots. But Vanek temporarily hushed the TD Garden when he opened the scoring 98 seconds into the second period with an absolute howitzer from 26 feet out that he one-timed past Tuukka Rask off a perfect pass from Cody Hodgson. It was the fifth time in seven games Buffalo scored the first goal of the night, and they are now 3-2-0 when doing this.
Point #2: Goal (2nd period, 16:46)
After Vanek’s goal had given Buffalo the early lead, Boston scored three times in a 5:42 span, and appeared to be taking a stranglehold on the game in front of their raucous fans. But when Milan Lucuc and Zdeno Chara both were called for minors at 15:45, Buffalo was handed a golden chance to get back into the game with the rare five-on-three opportunity. Just over one minute into the two-man advantage, Vanek camped out in front of Rask and deftly redirected Christian Ehrhoff’s pass into the net to cut the Bruins lead to 3-2.
Point #3: Assist (2nd period, 18:19)
With the period winding down, the Sabres were buzzing the Boston net to try and tie the score before intermission. Tyler Ennis fired a puck through the crease, and Marcus Foligno corralled the loose puck on the left boards. After some strong work along half wall, he fires a pass to the slot where Vanek is being absolutely abused by defenseman Andrew Ference. Somehow Vanek manages to take the pass and feeds Ennis on his forehand to his left while diving forwards. Ennis then buries the easy tap-in from 20 feet out to tie the game at 3-3.
Point #4: Assist (3rd period, 6:54)
With the game deadlocked at 4-4, momentum had suddenly shifted to the Sabres. Jason Pominville stripped Lucic of the puck at center ice and chipped it ahead to Vanek. In mid-stride he banked the puck off the wall and sped past a flatfooted Johnny Boychuk. Vanek fired a slap-pass across the ice to Cody Hodgson, and his one-timer past Rask turns out to be the game-winner, and almost a mirror image of the second-period goal they teamed up on at the other end of the ice.
Point # 5: Goal (3rd period, 18:29)
The Bruins were pressing late in hopes of knotting things up when Rich Peverley’s point shot was blocked in front by Mike Weber. The puck kicked up to Vanek, however his bank shot up the boards was intercepted by Peverley at center ice. But Peverley put the puck right back on Vanek’s stick with an ill-timed hand pass, and he was off to the races from there. As Vanek reached the slot, he waited out both a sliding Dennis Seidenberg and a thoroughly-confused looking Rask with a forehand-backhand deke that gave the Sabres some much-needed insurance at 6-4.