Insert any ridiculous lead-in or phenomenon metaphor to describe Thomas Vanek you desire. As of right now, I honestly don’t have the words.
Playing their hated rivals on the road, who happened to enter the contest undefeated in regulation time, Vanek put the Buffalo Sabres on his back and by the time he was done stomping all over the Boston Bruins, Buffalo left a sold-out TD Garden victorious, 7-4.
Buffalo actually trailed 4-3 early in the third period before running off the game’s final four goals over the last 17:32.
Vanek added some serious viewing pleasure to his growing 2103 highlight reel—scoring three goals and adding two of the prettiest assists you’ll see en route to his eighth career hat trick and second five point night in six games this season.
Vanek now leads the NHL with 15 points at the time of this posting.
Linemates Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville each scored a goal and added two assists while Tyler Ennis had a goal and a helper. Alexander Sulzer also scored.
Ryan Miller allowed four goals but was still outstanding between the pipes. He made 38 saves and most were difficult as Boston outshot the Sabres, 42-31.
Despite 11 goals being scored, none came in the first period. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t eventful, especially for Buffalo.
Boston’s Shawn Thornton made the mistake of picking a fight with John Scott less than three minutes into the game. As soon as the puck dropped following a face off, Thornton went at the 6-foot-8 slugger. What he received for his efforts was five or six right hands to the helmet followed by one to the face to knock him down without getting off a single shot.
Thornton left the game and didn’t return. Boston officials wouldn’t comment on his injury but indications are he suffered a concussion.
While it didn’t put a goal on the board, the Vladmir Klitscho imitation by Scott set a ton for the game and gave Buffalo plenty of physical confidence over the next 57 minutes.
After a scoreless opening period, Buffalo got on the board first at 1:38 of the second when a two on one resulted in Hodgson threading a perfect pass to Vanek, who rifled a blast past Tukka Rask for his fourth goal of the season.
Vanek was merely getting warmed up.
Boston scored the first of three straight goals to tie the game, 1-1 on a big mistake by Sulzer. A healthy scratch Tuesday, Sulzer failed to clear the puck out his zone along the right boards, which eventually led to a shot from in front by Rich Peverly that beat Miller at 5:12 of the second.
The major hole in Buffalo’s game has been the play in their own zone, and Sulzer’s mistake paled in comparison to the mishaps Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold committed over the rest of the evening.
It’s hard to fathom Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff not making changes at the blue line come Saturday.
Boston grabbed their first lead 2:31 after tying the score on a brilliant individual play by Brad Marchand. Seconds after Boston killed a penalty, Marchand took the puck near the Buffalo blue line, skated in on the left and blew past both Myers and Leopold before lifting a backhand over a fallen Miller.
Buffalo continued playing poorly in their own end and it cost them another goal, again with Myers and Leopold on the ice.
While the Sabres were standing around watching the puck flat footed, Patrice Bergeron found Marchand in front of the net at 10:54 for his second of the night and Boston’s third goal in 5:42.
Down 3-1, Buffalo seemed on the verge of imploding. That quickly changed.
Buffalo got a gift when Milan Lucic (boarding) and Zdeno Chara (holding) both were called for penalties on the same sequence to give the Sabres a much-needed two man advantage. They capitalized when Christian Ehrhoff took a low shot that Vanek redirected nto the net for his second of the game.
Continuing to battle, the Sabres would end the second period tied, 3-3 after a beautiful pass by a falling Vanek slid across the crease to find Ennis with 1:41 left and he buried the puck high over a sprawled Rask.
All the momentum Buffalo earned near the end of the second quickly dissipated in the third, thanks to yet another mistake by Leopold.
David Krejci carried the puck in the Sabres zone and rather than pay the body, Leopold over pursued the puck, allowing Krejci to patiently let Leopold slide out of the play before depositing the puck past Miller at 1:45.
It was the last puck that got by Miller—though not the last quality scoring opportunity Boston would have on the night.
A wild game got even wilder just 43 seconds later as rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko found Sulzer going towards the net, and he put a shot past Rask to tie at 4-4.
It was the first assist of Grigorenko’s career. It was also the first goal the Bruins have given up in the third period in seven games.
It wasn’t even close to being their last.
The Vanek show continued a short time later when he threaded yet another perfect pass that Hodgson one-timed on a blast for a goal as Buffalo regained the lead for good, 5-4 at 6:54.
As if things couldn’t get worse for Myers, he took a double minor with 8:35 to play for high sticking. Fortunately for Buffalo, Marcus Foligno drew a tripping call on Dennis Seidenburg just 31 seconds later.
The Bruins continued to threaten but Miller slammed the door on any home comeback hopes, turning aside the last 14 shots he saw, many of the difficult variety.
Vanek concluded his magical night to give Buffalo a 6-4 lead with just 1:31 remaining. (Video: Sabres.com)
Pominville put the icing on the cake via an empty netter with 14 seconds left to cap a three point night.
If you think Buffalo’s defense was bad, Boston head coach Claude Julien described his as “brain dead” to reporters during his post-game press conference.
The victory snapped a four-game winless skid for the Sabres. They’ll try to maintain their newly found mojo when they visit Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
(Video of Vanek’s goals courtesy of Sabres.com)