BUFFALO, N.Y. – Thomas Vanek scored three times to lead Buffalo to a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, inching the Sabres within a point of clinching a playoff berth.
Tim Connolly had a goal and two assists and Jhonas Enroth made 23 saves to improve to 3-0-1 in filling in since starter Ryan Miller was sidelined after taking a shot off the collarbone last week. Buffalo moved a point ahead of the seventh-place New York Rangers and five up on ninth-place Carolina.
Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone scored for the Lightning, who had a five-game winning streak snapped and lost for the first time in four road games. The loss leaves Tampa Bay in fifth place after opening the night a point behind Pittsburgh in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Buffalo now needs a point or a Hurricanes loss to clinch a postseason berth entering the final five days of the season. The Sabres' victory also knocked the Toronto Maple Leafs out of contention.
Lecavalier's goal, scored 13 seconds into the third period, provided the drama after the Sabres appeared to take control by building a 3-1 lead on Connolly's goal at 13:46 of the second.
Enroth stopped the final seven shots he faced, and Vanek sealed the win by stripping Martin St. Louis of the puck in the neutral zone and then blasting a shot into an empty net with 14 seconds left.
The game lacked intensity as both teams were playing for the third time in four nights. Buffalo was coming off an emotional 2-1 overtime win at Carolina on Sunday. Tampa Bay, which beat Chicago 2-0 on Sunday, closed a three-game road trip.
The Sabres rallied to take the lead after Malone opened the scoring at 13:53 of the first period.
Vanek tied it 3 minutes later by tipping in Jason Pominville's shot during a two-man advantage.
He then scored the go-ahead goal 8 minutes into the second period with a nifty play in front. Pominville set it up by digging the puck out along the right boards and feeding a pass into the front, where Vanek created space for himself by first shoving defenseman Mattias Ohlund from behind. Taking the puck on his forehand, Vanek then went backhand and flipped a shot over Dwayne Roloson's right pad.
Vanek's second goal was his 30th of the season, marking the fourth time in his six years he's hit that plateau.
Lecavalier elected to wear a visor after requiring three stitches to close a cut over his left eye on Sunday, when was accidentally high-sticked by Chicago's Michael Frolik in the second period of a 2-0 win.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman left the game in the second period and did not return with what the team called a lower body injury.
NOTES: Lightning D Eric Brewer missed his second straight game with a lower body injury. ... Sabres D Jordan Leopold will not require surgery to repair a broken right thumb. He's been cleared to begin practicing, and could return within two weeks. ... Sabres D Marc-Andre Gragnani, who scored the winning goal in an 2-1 win over Carolina on Sunday, was named the AHL's outstanding defenseman. He leads the league's blue-liners in both assists (48) and points (60). ... The Sabres announced there are as many as 75 alumni scheduled to attend a fan appreciation night for the team's season home finale against Philadelphia on Friday. Among those set to attend include Pat LaFontaine, Phil Housely and former GM John Muckler.