Thomas Vanek scored the winner in his 500th NHL game as the Buffalo Sabres edged divisional rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in a fast-paced and sometimes frenetic encounter at the First Niagara Center on Friday.
The Austrian winger marked his milestone with two goals, including what proved to be the decisive score with four minutes remaining in the third period, to fire the Sabres into a tie with the Maple Leafs for second place in the Northeast.
Vanek was sent in on a breakaway by Derek Roy, who was also playing his 500th game, and calmly slapped a shot through the legs of Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer.
There was no sign of the drama to come after the teams were goalless following an uneventful first period, but they then combined for six goals in the second period following a number of power plays.
Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf scored goals either side of a power-play effort by Buffalo’s Drew Stafford to put the Maple Leafs 2-1 up.
However, the Sabres struck back with a goal from Vanek and power-play scores by Tyler Ennis and Andrej Sekera to open up a 4-2 advantage as Phaneuf was ejected for hitting Zack Kassian from behind into the boards.
“Our power play made the difference tonight,” Vanek told reporters. “Some nights it’s not as good and tonight it made the difference. That’s what you want.”
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson bemoaned his side’s ill-discipline.
“If we’d have stayed out of the box, we were playing really well. We’ve taken far too many penalties in the last two or three weeks. Our penalty killers are taking penalties. It doesn’t really give your team a chance,” Wilson said.
Toronto’s Nikolai Kulemin then scored on a penalty shot midway through the third period to cut the lead to 4-3, but Vanek scored the clincher and the Sabres hung on despite Mikhail Grabovski pulling the Maple Leafs to within one goal to set-up a tense finale.
DEVILS 6, STARS 3
In Newark, New Jersey, Zach Parise made sure the night the New Jersey Devils honored former captain Scott Niedermayer ended on a winning note by scoring a goal and setting up three others in a 6-3 victory over Dallas.
David Clarkson, rookie Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias also scored as the Devils won their third straight and snapped the Stars’ and rookie goaltender Richard Backman’s three-game winning streak.
Johan Hedberg finished with 33 saves for the Devils.
Michael Ryder, Brendan Morrow and Toby Petersen scored for the Pacific Division-leading Stars, who went 3-2 on a road trip that covered 10,460km.
Niedermayer, who helped the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003 while wearing No. 27, became the third Devils player to have his number retired.
SENATORS 6, PENGUINS 4
In Ottawa, Jason Spezza had two goals and two assists, while Jared Cowen also had four points to lead Ottawa to a win over Pittsburgh.
Daniel Alfredsson scored his 398th NHL goal and added two assists, while Erik Karlsson also had three points.
Colin Greening scored 25 seconds into the second, while Zenon Konopka netted Ottawa’s fifth goal of the period with 5.7 seconds left, increasing the Senators’ lead to 5-3 just 4 seconds into a power play.
Karlsson recorded his 100th point with his third assist of the period on Konopka’s goal.
Pittsburgh’s Steve Sullivan had a goal and two assists as the teams combined for eight goals in the middle period after a scoreless first. Matt Niskanen and Evgeni Malkin scored power-play goals 1 minute, 7 seconds apart to draw the Penguins even at 3.