Thomas Vanek giveth, and Thomas Vanek taketh away. That thought was the bookends to the third period, as the Sabres were lifted by Vanek's heroics, then finished by his bad penalty in a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Sabres came out at the opening of tonight's rematch swinging, as fans saw a Steve Ott/Tim Gleason fight and could have seen a few others were it not for the refs. John Scott, Patrick Kaleta, and even Vanek got in on the hitting, though he may have been a bit too fired up tonight, as he received an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct after screaming something we can't reprint here at the referee. However, for all their combined pep, the Sabres and Hurricanes exited the period tied at zero.
The second period ended the same as the first, but Sabres fans got a scare when Vanek went to the locker room midway through the period. Vanek suffered a muscle strain, and Lindy Ruff wasn't even sure he would return, but return he did, with mixed results.
Vanek's presence would pay off early in the third on a Sabres power play, as the big winger muscled his way past the Carolina defenseman with a strong move to the net and snapped a shot over Dan Ellis' shoulder to give the Sabres the 1-0 lead. "Thomas has been awesome," said Ruff after the game. There's no doubt about that, as Vanek has now tied a team record (along with Brian Campbell) by scoring nine points in his first four games, and has been on the ice for all 11 Sabres goals this season.
The Buffalo lead wouldn't last long, though, as a Marcus Foligno penalty left the Sabres shorthanded, and Carolina's Alexander Semin made them pay by snapping a quick wrister over the shoulder of Ryan Miller. Robyn Regehr had a chance to gain possession right before Semin scored, but failed to do so, and the Canes big offseason acquisition tied the game at one.
With just under five minutes left in the third, Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison sent a seeing-eye wrist shot through traffic that beat Ryan Miller. It was exactly the kind of shot that makes you go, "Really? Sigh." If you can imagine that (and as Sabres fans, I imagine you know the feeling quite well.) However, Miller said that he never saw the release on either shot - he played well tonight, and was the third star, but you see 39 clearly and you miss 2, and there you go.
A Thomas Vanek penalty late on a bad cross-checking penalty was the final nail in the Sabers coffin, and after an empty netter for Carolina, it was all over but the crying.
After the game, Lindy Ruff shared updates on Thomas Vanek (will get a day off tomorrow, then be re-evaluated) and possible line juggling, saying "I think at this point we can go with just about anything, except the top line."
Mikhail Grigorenko started the game on the fourth line with Nathan Gerbe and John Scott, and finished with just 6:48 of ice time. According to Ruff, he switched lines because the Sabres coach wanted to be a little bit tougher with the line he was sending out to slow down Eric Staal, and so Patrick Kaleta and Jochen Hecht played with Steve Ott, to decent success.
When Vanek went down in the second, the Sabres shortened their bench to three lines. After not playing hardly at all in the second period, Ruff didn't think it was fair to send Grigorenko back out there, so the Sabres rolled with just three lines. "It was coach's decision," said Grigorenko. "I was just kind of getting ready, make sure when he calls my name I'll be ready." You can hear audio from the Sabres top prospect below.
Note: He was very soft spoken in this interview , so you may need to turn your speakers up.