Rookie Thomas Vanek
and Maxim Afinogenov combined to give Buffalo the lift it needed on Saturday night. Vanek scored a pair of goals, including the game winner with Afinogenov getting the primary helper on each, as the Sabres defeated the Florida Panthers for the first time this season, 5-3.
"We just wanted to come out playing hard tonight," said Vanek, who scored two goals in a game for the third time this season. "We accomplished that and it was a good win for us. Hopefully, we can continue that tomorrow."
Vanek regained the Buffalo lead after the team relinquished a two-goal lead with just 50 seconds remaining in the second. Afinogenov, being pulled down to the ice, got the puck to the rookie with a desperation swat of the stick to make the score 3-2 in favor of Buffalo.
"We got a lucky bounce," said Vanek. "The pass hopped right over the Florida defenseman's blade and I just turned around and snapped it in."
The duo teamed up again five minutes into the third as Vanek received the puck in the neutral zone, shielded Lukas Krajicek with his body and beat Roberto Luongo with a wraparound.
"I've tried that a few times and got lucky on a couple of them," said Vanek. "When I come around the net, I just try to put it in. I don't really try to lift the puck or anything, just try to hit the net or bank the puck in off the goalie."
Defensively, Toni Lydman put forth a mammoth performance, logging a season high 26:18 minutes of ice time, while adding four blocked shots and a plus/minus rating of plus-three.
"It's satisfying," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff of the victory over Florida.
JP Dumont batted the puck past Luongo to give Buffalo the early lead three minutes into the game. Cutting to the net, Dumont swung baseball style at a waist-high pass from Ales Kotalik and connected. The puck struck the ice in front of Luongo and bounced over his left shoulder for Dumont's eighth of the season.
Novotny increased Buffalo's lead to a pair of goals after receiving a nice pass from Derek Roy
five minutes into the second. Cycling the puck behind Florida's net, Roy slipped a behind-the-back pass to Novotny off the left post for the one-timer and his first NHL tally.
"It was a great feeling to score and we won the game," said Novotny of the marker. "Sometimes, you can score a milestone goal and lose the game. You end up sad and a little bit happy. It was a great win for us and scoring that goal just added to it."
In a crowd in front of the net, former Sabre Chris Gratton out muscled Teppo Numminen for a loose puck and slipped a low shot past Miller to bring the Panthers within a goal.
Six minutes later, Florida converted on an odd-man rush to even the score as Jon Sim netted his 13th of the season after receiving a feed from Juraf Kolnik on the left wing.
Vanek's pair put Buffalo up 4-2 with 15 minutes remaining in regulation. Jason Pominville
snapped a long shot past Luongo from 20-feet after collecting Numminen's blocked shot from the right point to put Buffalo up 5-2.
Mike Van Ryn redirected Nathan Horton's pass from the right wing to cut Buffalo lead to two with less than four minutes remaining.
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1-0 (17:29): JP Dumont bats the puck past Luongo with a baseball swing to give Buffalo the early lead. The puck hit the ice infront of the netminder and skipped over his right shoulder. The goal is Dumont's eighth of the season. Ales Kotalik gets the lone helper. Period 2
2-0 (5:02): Derek Roy
flips a behind-the-back pass from below the goalline to Jiri Novotny for the one-timer and his first career NHL goal. Roy and Jason Pominville
get the helpers.
2-1 (10:49): In a crowd in front of the net, former Sabre Chris Gratton out muscled Teppo Numminen for a loose puck and slipped a low shot past Miller. The power-play goal is Gratton's 11th of the season. Jozef Stumpel and Jon Sim get the helpers.
3-2 (19:10): With just 50 seconds remaining in the second period, Thomas Vanek
collects Maxim Afinogenov's loose puck after the Russian was pulled to the ice, and snaps a wristshot into the top left corner of the net. The goal is Vanek's 17th of the season. Afinogenov and Derek Roy
register the assists. Period 3
4-2 (5:00): Thomas Vanek
skates into the Sabres zone, fends off Lukas Krajicek with his body and beats Luongo with a wraparound. The goal is Vanek's second of the game, 18th of the season and third two-goal game. Afinogenov gets the helper.
5-2 (16:26): Jason Pominville
snaps a long shot past Luongo from 20-feet after collecting Teppo Numminen's blocked shot from the right point. the goal is Pominville's 14th of the season. Lydman and Dumont get the helpers.
5-3 (16:41): Mike Van Ryn redirected Nathan Horton's pass from the right wing to cut Buffalo lead to two. Martin Gelinas gets the secondary assist.