VANCOUVER – When the Sabres left Buffalo on Saturday, they were 3-0-1 in a four-game stretch and headed west to play three supremely struggling teams. It looked like a real chance to make a bigger dent in the standings, push over .500 and continue their upward climb.
It hasn’t happened. For the second time in two nights, the Sabres scored first but got no traction from their early lead. The Vancouver Canucks, the subject of plenty of ridicule from their home fans and media, found their game midway through the first period and pulled away for a 5-2 win over Buffalo in Rogers Arena.
Winger Radim Vrbata scored a pair of first-period goals and posted the first hat trick of the season against Buffalo to lead a Vancouver attack that had managed just five goals in its previous five games. And former Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller won for the second time in three starts against his former team as the Canucks snapped their five-game losing streak.
Making solid contact: Buffalo captain Brian Gionta opened the scoring at 6:48 of the first period, taking a midair swing at the puck to knock in his third goal of the season. It came after Jamie McGinn stripped Matt Bartkowski at the Vancouver line. The Sabres created plenty of turnovers over the first 10 minutes but did not create any other offense.
Double trouble: Vrbata’s goals put the hosts up for keeps, 2-1. For openers, Vrbata banged home a rebound at the edge of the crease into an empty net 8:08 of the first, and then he used a neat tip to redirect a Dan Hamhuis shot at 16:42. Vrbata, who entered the game with six goals, had none in his last five games and just three in his previous 16.
Four not on the floor: The Sabres’ fourth line of David Legwand between Marcus Foligno and Nic Deslauriers were caught on the ice for both of Vrbata’s goals. It left both Foligno and Deslauriers with minus-2 ratings in the period despite neither getting more than 2:19 of ice time.
Close call: The Canucks nearly took a 3-1 lead later in the period as Josh Gorges slid behind Linus Ullmark to make a save in the crease and an official’s whistle blew while the puck was still loose and just before Vancouver jammed it home.
Spear this: Tough guy Brandon Prust, fined $5,000 by the NHL for his spear to the midsection of Boston’s Brad Marchand here Saturday, made it 3-1 at 4:34 of the second when he slipped away from Mike Weber in front and took a neat backhand pass from Derek Dorsett.
It was Prust’s first goal in 50 games, since he scored for Montreal against the Sabres on Feb. 3 in the Bell Centre. His last goal against anybody other than the Sabres was last go against Ottawa on Dec. 20, 2014.
Deadly power play: In a 4-on-3 situation, you figured the Sedins might be deadly and the Sabres found out just that. Daniel and Alex Edler assists on Henrik Sedin’s goal at 17:18 of the second, a neat tip through the legs of Linus Ullmark.
McGinn Magic: The winger who is often forgotten as a chip acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade has a career-high six-game point streak with two goals and five assists in those games.
The Ullmark Report: The Buffalo rookie fell to 4-6-2 and is 0-4-2 in his last six outings in the net. That’s 12 goals against Ullmark in his last three starts.
The Miller Report: The Sabres’ all-time victory leader snapped his three-game losing streak for the Canucks and improved to 8-9-6. He stopped 32 shots.
Hometown starters: The Sabres put four British Columbia natives on the ice for the opening faceoff as Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart took their customary spot with Ontarian O’Reilly and Kelowna, B.C., neighbors Josh Gorges and Cody Franson started as well. After that shift, Rasmus Ristolainen took his customary slot alongside Gorges.
Reinhart got his eighth goal of the season, one off the team high by banging home an O’Reilly feed at 1:51 of the third period.
Up next: The Sabres flew to Calgary right after the game, where they will play the Flames on Thursday night. The team will take Tuesday off and return to practice on Wednesday.