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Vanek fires Sabres to victory over Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs' Reimer makes save on Sabres' Stafford and Vanek in Buffalo
Maple Leafs' Reimer makes save on Sabres' Stafford and Vanek in Buffalo

(Reuters) - Thomas Vanek scored the winner in his 500th NHL game as the Buffalo Sabres edged divisional rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in a fast-paced and sometimes frenetic encounter at the First Niagara Center on Friday.

The Austrian winger marked his milestone with two goals, including what proved to be the decisive score with four minutes remaining in the third period, to fire the Sabres into a tie with the Maple Leafs for second place in the Northeast.

Vanek was sent in on a breakaway by Derek Roy, who was also playing his 500th game, and calmly slapped a shot through the legs of Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer.

There was no sign of the drama to come after the teams were goalless following an uneventful first period, but they then combined for six goals in the second period following a number of powerplays.

Toronto's Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf scored goals either side of a powerplay effort by Buffalo's Drew Stafford to put the Maple Leafs 2-1 up.

However, the Sabres struck back with a goal from Vanek and powerplay scores by Tyler Ennis and Andrej Sekera to open up a 4-2 advantage as Phaneuf was ejected for hitting Zack Kassian from behind into the boards.

"Our power play made the difference tonight," Vanek told reporters. "Some nights it's not as good and tonight it made the difference. That's what you want."

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson bemoaned his side's ill-discipline.

"If we'd have stayed out of the box, we were playing really well. We've taken far too many penalties in the last two or three weeks. Our penalty killers are taking penalties. It doesn't really give your team a chance," Wilson said.

Toronto's Nikolai Kulemin then scored on a penalty shot midway through the third period to cut the lead to 4-3 but Vanek scored the clincher and the Sabres hung on despite Mikhail Grabovski pulling the Maple Leafs to within one goal to set-up a tense finale.

(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario. Editing by Nick Mulvenney/Patrick Johnston)