was stuffed by goaltender Alex Auld one too many times. Held scoreless on a consecutive breakaways - the second being a penalty shot - Vanek was bound and determined to beat Auld for his second goal of the game.
He succeeded 19 seconds into overtime.
Stationed in front of the net with a four-on-three advantage in favor of Buffalo, Vanek collected Ales Kotalik's rebound, worked Auld out of position and gave Buffalo the 5-4 overtime victory with a wristshot from the slot.
"I've got a saying, 'you can't teach that.' That play took a tremendous amount of patience," said Ruff of Vanek's game winner. "Probably seven out of 10 players would have shot it, but he handled it and took Auld out of the play."
"I was just screening the goalie," said Vanek. "Kotalik's shot hit a stick and bounced to me. I just pulled it to the middle and shot."
Vanek finished the night with a pair of goals, giving him three in two games.
"He's really had a good start to the season and there really hasn't been any dog games," said Ruff of Vanek's work ethic. "For the most part, his effort has been tremendous and he's been rewarded for it."
Buffalo also received contributions from a few players who had been absent from the score sheet the past few games.
Paul Gaustad recorded his first goal in 16 regular season games and Brian Campbell chipped in his first in 12 games as the Sabres moved to 13-1-1 on the season.
Ales Kotalik's goal was his first in just three games, while Adam Mair and Daniel Briere each finished with two assists.
"I said it was only a matter of time before those guys starting chipping in," said Ruff of Gaustad and Mair. "The opportunities and chances were there."
Martin Biron finished the game with 15 saves and has now won each of his four starts this season.
For the sixth time this season, Buffalo was forced to battle back from a two-goal deficit earned by two peculiar goals.
Jaroslav Spacek's pass to Toni Lydman deflected off Olli Jokinen's left leg and deflected to the front of the net where Gary Roberts snapped the puck five-hole to give Florida the 1-0 lead at 5:20 of the first period. The tally - Roberts' third of the season - came on the Panthers' first shot on goal.
Ruslan Salei increased the lead to a pair on a breakaway. Coming out of the penalty box, Salei was sprung by Jay Bouwmeester with a long pass and scored with a quick wristshot into the top-right corner of the net at 1:48 of the second.
"We ended up down 2-0 on two plays that don’t happen every night," said Biron. "So you feel that the team is capable of coming back."
"We got a couple of bounces against us, but we fought our way back," said Ruff, whose team came back from a two-goal deficit only seven times all of last season. "That was a big win for our team especially after the [four-day] break."
Vanek netted his ninth of the season after stripping Steve Montador at the right faceoff dot and firing into the top right corner of the net at the 3:12 mark of the second. Adam Mair prevented Auld from ever seeing the shot.
With his first goal in 12 games, Campbell tied the game 2-2 five minutes into the second. Off a give-and-go with Jochen Hecht behind the net, Campbell fought his way to the front of the net and one-timed the return pass just inside the left post at 5:25.
"If you go down a couple of goals, you always have a chance to come back," said Biron.
Gaustad gave Buffalo its first lead with his first goal of the season after one-timing Mair's pass from the left boards at 3:14 of the third.
Kotalik expanded Buffalo's lead to a pair of goals after he collected a rebound along the goal line and banked a shot from an impossible angle off Florida's sprawling netminder at 4:04.
The Panthers tied the score 4-4 off goals by Joe Nieuwendyk and Montador at 10:51 and 16:39.
"I don't look that we gave up the lead," said Ruff. "On the score sheet we did, but the effort was tremendous."
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