BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Down two goals in the third period to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night, the Buffalo Sabres needed a miracle.
Or, in this case, Thomas Vanek.
The hottest player in the NHL had two goals in the third period -- including the game-tying goal with 1.9 seconds left in regulation -- and Jason Pominville scored the deciding goal in the third round of the shootout to cap a wild, 5-4 comeback victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the First Niagara Center. Vanek now leads the NHL in goals (10) and points (21).
"When he's riding a hot stretch, sometimes he's unstoppable," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Marcus Foligno set up the late drama after putting the puck inside the Montreal crease with seconds remaining in regulation. With a mad scramble in front of the net, Vanek poked home his second goal of the evening to tie the game at 4-4.
"I saw it," Vanek said. "I was on the point skating in and I didn't want to go in too hard because usually it seems like when you go in too hard the puck comes out and you're not there. So I was patient but once I saw it there I jumped at it and got a good whack at it."
Vanek also had Buffalo's first successful attempt in the shootout. Steve Ott and Tyler Ennis also scored for the Sabres, who improved to 4-6-1. Ryan Miller had 28 saves.
Tomas Plekanec scored twice for the Canadiens, who lost their second game in as many days. Brendan Gallagher and P.K. Subban also scored for Montreal (6-4). Peter Budaj had 36 saves.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien wasn't pleased with the string of events that led to the tying goal.
"The standard above the crease and hitting the goalie, it's different game by game," Therrien said. "What are you going to do? The referees, there's no call ... the standards are pretty tough to follow sometimes."
The game began to turn on Vanek's first goal of the third period. Vanek put home a rebound on the power play at the 7:57 mark after Ryan White received a double minor for roughing.
"Unacceptable," Therrian said of the penalties that helped turn the game. "This is the third time this year he put the team in trouble. Everything was under control before the penalties that he took, so, disappointed."
The Sabres kept coming back Thursday night, tying the game on three separate occasions.
Plekanec opened the scoring 4:11 into the game when his wrist shot from inside the right circle beat Miller high to the stick side. The Sabres responded 15 seconds later when Ott's shot found its way through Budaj's legs.
The Canadiens opened the scoring again in the second period, and once again the Sabres mustered a quick response. Gallagher buried a wrist shot past Miller 12:31 into the second to give Montreal a 2-1 lead, but Ennis answered for the Sabres 35 seconds later. Ennis raced down the left side of the ice and had a clear path toward Budaj, putting home a quick shot to the short side.
Subban gave Montreal a 3-2 lead with 1:28 left in the second period on a 5-on-3 power play. Subban received a high stick from Buffalo's Steve Ott to give the Canadiens the two-man advantage, and he made no mistake with his bullet from just behind the left circle.
Plekanec gave Montreal a two-goal edge with his breakaway goal 45 seconds into the third period before Vanek's third-period heroics.
Even though the Canadiens have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, there was no panic in their locker room after the game.
"I'm happy with how we've played so far," Plekanec said. "You take a couple points back from the last two but that just happens. It's hockey."
The Sabres, meanwhile, hope that the come-from-behind win is the catalyst they need to finally move in the right direction. Prior to Thursday's game, they had lost three games in a row and seven of their last eight.
"It's trying to create a snowball effect where we can line up a couple in a row here and keep it going," Pominville said. "Obviously we're not happy with where we were and I think there's been improvement in our game. But there's still a lot to be done and this is a big step in that direction."
NOTES: Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (muscle strain) returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game against Ottawa. Fellow Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera missed his third straight game with a bruised foot. ... This was the second of five meetings between the two teams this year. Montreal won the first meeting, 6-1, on Feb. 2. ... This was the 255th game all-time between Montreal and Buffalo; heading into Thursday's game, the Sabres led the series 116-101-37. ... Budaj received his second start of the season for the Canadiens.