ended his 14-game scoring drought with a pair of goals but his efforts weren't enough as the Sabres fell for the sixth time in their last seven games.
"(The game) was nothing to be happy about," said Vanek, who recorded his first-career NHL goal at 9:15 of the third. "We're just going to have to come back to practice tomorrow and focus on winning one."
"I would rather give my first goal up, have two points and be back on a winning streak."
Buffalo dominated almost every facet of the game. Defensively, the team allowed just 11 shots in two periods. Offensively, Buffalo out shot the Hurricanes 44-21, including 22-3 in the second period.
However, the team trailed 3-1 when the whistle blew for the second intermission.
"We knew if we played the way we were playing, we would get back in the game," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff of the mood in the locker room prior to the third.
Following a successful penalty shot by Erik Cole, Vanek's pair spurred Buffalo to life and cut Carolina's lead to 4-3. Vanek's play seemed to strengthen with every scoring chance and he seemed destined to notch the hat trick and the game-tying goal.
"We need that," said Ruff of Vanek's increased level of confidence from his first goal. "You can create a lot of offense with sound defense, and for Thomas, I thought that was his best night by far in a long time."
But it just wasn't meant to be for the Buffalo Sabres. Justin Williams sealed the victory for the Hurricanes with an empty goal at 19:28 of the third to put the game out of reach, 5-3.
"We had a lot of good chances in this one, and I think we definitely should have won," said Vanek. "It's disappointing."
Martin Biron struggled in net for Buffalo, allowing three goals off 11 shots in the first two periods. Biron steadied in the third, making 10 saves and allowing only Cole's goal.
"In the first couple periods, we needed a save," said Ruff of Biron. "I need him to be more aggressive. He's got to get out there and challenge.
"Every guy was pressing, and I need Marty to press too. Let it all hang out. I thought he wasn't quite there for us."
The Sabres jumped all over Carolina early, out shooting the Hurricanes 12-8 in the opening period of play but finished the first trailing 2-1.
Kotalik gave Buffalo the early lead at 4:57 in the first, snapping a wrist shot from the point for his eighth goal of the season and sixth on the man-advantage. Kotalik has now scored four goals and added two assists for six points in his last four games.
Buffalo's only lead of the game would last just ten minutes as Ray Whitney beat Biron top shelf at 14:41. Although recorded in the official score sheet as an even-strength goal, the tally came as Henrik Tallinder's two-minute penalty for interference expired and he was exiting the box.
For the just fourth time this season, Buffalo headed into the first intermission trailing their opponent when Mike Zigomanis gave Carolina their first lead of the game with his first of the season.
After receiving a nice drop pass from Eric Stall, Zigomanis fired low on Biron's stick side to give the Hurricanes the 2-1 lead.
With Buffalo dominating the first 12 minutes of the second period, a costly hooking penalty by Jeff Jillson opened the door for Carolina.
Frantisek Kaberle converts on the ensuing power play to extend their lead to two goals at 14:06. Kaberle collected a loose puck that had deflected off Paul Gaustad's skate to the front of the net, spun and fired for his third of the season.
Cole scored on his first penalty shot attempt at 8:37 to give Carolina the 4-3 lead.
Cole became the first player in NHL history to attempt two penalty shots in the same game as he was again pulled down on a breakaway just seven minutes later. On the second attempt, he fired the puck wide to the left.
------------------------------------------ SCORING REPORTS
| Super Stats
| Faceoff Comp
| Play By Play
| Shift Chart GAME BLOG:
1-0 (4:57): Ales Kotalik snaps a wrist shot from the point on the power play for his eighth goal of the season and sixth point on the man-advantage. JP Dumont screened Carolina goaltender Martin Gerber on the play. Brian Campbell (4) and Thomas Vanek
(10) record the assists.
1-1 (14:41): Just as Henrik Tallinder's penalty for interference expired, Ray Whitney fired top shelf on Sabres goaltender Martin Biron to tie the game. The even-strength goal is Whitney's fourth of the season. Erik Cole (8) and Cory Stillman (11) are credited with the helpers.
1-2 (18:20): Eric Staal makes a nice drop pass to Mike Zigomanis, who was cutting through the slot, for a quick wrist shot that beats Martin Biron low on his stick side with less than two minutes remaining in the first. The goal is Zigomanis' first of the seaosn. Staal (16) records his first assist of the game, while Cory Stillman (12) gets his second. Period 2
1-3 (14:06): Frantisek Kaberle gives Carolina a two-goal lead with a power-play goal. Kaberle collected a loose puck that deflected off Paul Gaustad's skate in front of Martin Biron, spun and fired. Erik Cole (9) made the pass that deflected off Gaustad, while Cory Stillman (13) gets the second assist on the play. Period 3
1-4 (8:37): Erik Cole scores on a penalty shot after being tripped by Jochen Hecht
on a breakaway. The goal is credited as unassisted.
2-4 (9:15): Thomas Vanek
scores his first career goal to cut Carolina's lead to two. Vanek slashed through the neutral zone, fought off two Carolina defensemen and beats Martin Gerber five-hole. Ales Kotalik and Dmitri Kalinin record the assists.
3-4 (12:43): Thomas Vanek
redirects Henrik Tallinder's shot from the point for his second career goal. Vanek tipped the shot with a backhand over Martin Gerber to cut Carolina's lead to one. Tallinder and Tim Connolly get the helpers. The goal was reviewed and allowed.
3-4 (15:47): Erik Cole gets his second penalty shot of the game but misses wide to the left.
3-5 (19:28): Justin Williams scores an empty net goal to seal the victory for Carolina. Assist goes to Niclas Wallin, his first of the season.