A day following a cross country flight from Anaheim, Vanek scored a natural hat trick and Ryan Miller stopped all 16 shots in leading the Sabres to a 5-0 win against the overwhelmed and lifeless Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We knew we were maybe physically not in top shape, but I thought we skated well,” said Vanek, who upped his team-leading total to 32 goals. “We played smart and got the early lead, and that really helped us.”
Vanek, who also added an assist, registered the fifth three-goal game of his career and first this season. It was also Vanek’s fourth consecutive natural hat trick, matching an NHL record set by Cy Denneny between 1923 and 1924 with the old Ottawa Senators.
Home sweet home, said Miller, noting the Sabres played their first game in Buffalo in nearly three weeks following a six-game road trip that spanned the NHL All-Star break.
“We had good energy tonight, a lot of guys are happy to be home,” said Miller, who was relatively untested in registering his second straight shutout. “The boys looked really sharp. They should be proud of managing the game for 60 minutes.”
Miller, who stopped 28 shots in a 2-0 win at Phoenix on Saturday, hasn’t allowed a goal in a span of 126:52, dating to a 5-2 loss at Calgary on Jan. 28.
The Maple Leafs were outshot 32-16 while showing no spark. They still appeared stunned after squandering a two-goal third-period lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to Florida on Tuesday.
“We let one slip away last night,” Leafs forward Matt Stajan said. “We had a chance to redeem ourselves. We were flat all game.”
Stajan was the only Toronto player to get the puck behind Miller, scoring midway through the third period. But, as the Leafs’ fortunes went, the goal was disallowed when Stajan was issued an interference penalty for knocking down Ales Kotalik while breaking to the net.
“This wasn’t one of our better efforts to say the least,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “We weren’t ready tonight.”
The Sabres, by comparison, were on top of their game after going 3-3 on their road trip.
Stafford’s goal, which gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead 13 minutes into the first period, was the turning point, lifting his teammates and demoralizing the Maple Leafs.
Accepting Clarke MacArthur’s drop pass inside the Toronto blue line, Stafford faked driving inside and neatly backhanded the puck through his legs without breaking stride to fool defenseman Mike Van Ryn.
Stafford then drove to the net and snapped a shot inside the far right post. While Stafford celebrated, Van Ryn smashed his stick across the crossbar in frustration.
“I got lucky. If I screwed that up, I probably would’ve heard about it from Lindy,” Stafford said, referring to coach Lindy Ruff.
With a smile, Ruff said he probably would’ve let Stafford hear about it.
“It was a timely goal and a great goal, a heck of a move,” Ruff said. “Any time you pull off a move like that, those are special moves and it doesn’t happen very often.”
Vanek sealed the win by scoring the final three goals, two on the power play.
Justin Pogge started after being recalled from the minors. The 2004 third-round draft pick is considered Toronto’s goalie of the future and made his third NHL appearance this season. Pogge, who gave up six goals on 21 shots against Minnesota last week, was not to blame for this one.
He received little support from a flat-footed defense and a disinterested offense that managed nine shots through two periods.
“I’m not enjoying it too much,” Pogge said of his first taste of playing in the NHL. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
Sabres RW Jason Pominville had two assists, giving him 12 assists—but no goals—in his past 14 games. … Maple Leafs forward Jeremy Williams was activated off IR and played against Buffalo after missing 14 games with a shoulder injury. … Sabres D Teppo Numminen returned after missing six games with a broken jaw.