The Buffalo Sabres took a brief breath following their shellacking on Long Island last weekend, and while they were exhaling they took a glance at the schedule. They noticed five games in eight nights with the All-Star break on the other side of the run. It seemed like a good time to get ambitious.
"Up until the All-Star break, we need to run the table to be anywhere close to the position we want to be in," goaltender Ryan Miller said.
After Thursday's 4-2 victory over Boston, they're 2 for 2 with three games to go.
"It's a good start," said Miller, who made 38 saves to follow up Tuesday's win over Montreal and help the Sabres beat the top two teams in the Northeast Division. "It's definitely big and positive for us."
Buffalo beat the Bruins in TD Garden by overcoming two deficits and a second-period injury to Patrick Kaleta that left them with just 10 forwards. Thomas Vanek keyed a third-period surge with a goal and assist, snapping a 2-2 tie and merrily sending the Sabres home to face the New York Islanders tonight in HSBC Arena.
"It's a great win for us against a good team," Vanek said. "We never gave up. We got down twice, and we kept going. We got timely goals, and in the end it was a real good win for us."
Vanek scored the winner with 14:47 left. He carried the puck into the Boston zone on an odd-man rush, used Tim Connolly as a decoy and fired from the right side. The snap shot zipped past goaltender Tuukka Rask, increasing Vanek's team-high goal total to 18.
He helped put the game away with 3:20 left with his 21st assist. Vanek pulled up on the left side of the Boston zone, waited for right wing Jason Pominville to drive the net and threaded the puck to the crease for a tap-in. The goal sent a large portion of the sellout crowd of 17,565 toward the exits and moved the Sabres to 7-2-1 in their past 10 games.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff repeatedly has said the team's best players need to be their best in order for Buffalo to win. Vanek extended his point streak to four games, and Miller made 18 saves in the final period.
"The third period they made the difference in the game, which was important," Ruff said. "The game was on the line, and you need your best players to be your best. Ryan made the saves, and Thomas went out and got us the winner and set up the fourth goal."
Vanek has two goals and eight points during his four-game run, which was preceded by a spurt that saw him record points in four of five games.
"We need him to produce," Miller said. "There's no getting around it. It's good to see him getting pucks to the net."
The Sabres started the night with 11 forwards after opting to dress call-up Marc-Andre Gragnani as a seventh defenseman, and they ended the game with only 10. Kaleta, who just returned Tuesday from a broken left hand suffered Dec. 29 in Edmonton, dived to block Steven Kampfer's blast from the point with 5:45 left in the second period. The slap shot struck Kaleta on the injured left hand, which is still covered by a hard cast.
He immediately tossed his glove to the ice and was helped to the back.
"Everything is negative, so hopefully it won't be a long period of time," Ruff said.
The Sabres overcame his loss by overcoming deficits.
The Bruins' Dennis Seidenberg opened the scoring with the only goal of the first period. The Sabres started the three-goal second period just 64 seconds in. Cody McCormick took a pass from Connolly inside the Boston zone and fired a shot off the left post. It caromed directly back to McCormick, who took a few strides to his right and shot into an empty net before Rask could recover.
The Bruins regained their lead with 4:51 gone, but the Sabres' surging power play tied the game again when Nathan Gerbe buried Tyler Myers' cross-ice pass. Buffalo's power play has struck in four straight games and eight of nine.
"We need to keep that rolling," Gerbe said. "If you want to have success, you've got to have the power play rolling."
They can try against the Islanders, who were 5-3 winners Saturday in a game that wasn't really close.
"We laid an egg on the Island," Vanek said, "so I think we've got revenge there."
Slap shots: Sabres win second straight and improve to 7-2-1 in last 10 games. Vanek snaps 2-2 tie with unassisted goal with 14:47 left in third period. Sabres lose Kaleta when he blocks shot with his broken left hand.
Fast fact: The Sabres will complete their 12th set of back-to-back games tonight. They are 4-6-1 in the second outing.
Next: New York Islanders, 7:30 tonight in HSBC Arena.