Thomas Vanek played the 553d game of his NHL career Thursday night at TD Garden. It was his 46th against the Bruins, a team Vanek has owned in his eight-year Sabres career.
And Thursday night was no different.
Buffalo’s dangerous winger recorded the eighth hat trick of his career — and second vs. Boston — and a pair of assists to hand the Bruins their first regulation loss of the season, 7-4, before a stunned TD Garden crowd of 17,545.
The 5-point night improved his totals against the Bruins to 28-26—54. Afterward, Vanek was at a loss when asked to explain the secret of his success.
“Again, I think it’s just statistics,’’ he said. “There’s nothing else to it.’’
Vanek said he did not have any special feelings about facing the Bruins, even in light of his past performances.
“No,” he said. “I mean, it’s Boston and it’s a tough team and you’ve got to be ready. Besides that, I don’t have another answer for you.’’
Vanek scored the Sabres’ first two goals and was credited with assists on Tyler Ennis’s goal that tied it 3-3 at 18:19 of the second period and Cody Hodgson’s goal that gave the Sabres a 5-4 lead at 6:54 of the third.
Vanek completely dismantled the Bruins’ defense and squashed any hopes of a late comeback when he completed the hat trick on a two-man rush against Tuukka Rask and a 6-4 lead at 18:29.
In six games this season, Vanek has six goals and nine assists.
“He’s been awesome,’’ said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, when asked if Vanek has had a better stretch of hockey.
“The little parts of his game, taking advantage of the offense and making plays — the pass to Cody and selling the shot and making the pass.
“He’s got two 5-point games, so it’s hard to say that he’s had a better stretch.’’
While Vanek’s first goal at 1:38 of the second gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead, it was the second tally, 15 minutes later on a two-man advantage that he was particularly proud of.
“Five-on-three, you need to score,’’ said Vanek, who did precisely that when he camped out in front of the Bruins’ net, called for the puck by rapping his stick on the ice and redirected Christian Ehrhoff’s drive from the left circle to pull the Sabres within 3-2.
“It gave our team a boost,’’ Vanek said.
But Vanek didn’t limit his offensive production to just scoring. He proved a dangerous passer, especially on Ennis’s tying goal that made it 3-3 at the end of a wild second period.
“That play to Ennis was second to none,’’ Ruff said. “He outmuscled the guy in front of the net and made, really, a diving-type of pass that helped us get back in the game.’’
Vanek punctuated the victory with his hat trick. He retrieved a loose puck in the neutral zone that got away from a stickless Rich Peverley in front of the Bruins’ bench and broke in on Rask with Jason Pominville skating on the left wing.
“I saw we had a 2-on-0,’’ Vanek said. “I just wanted to go in and fake a shot on Tuukka — because he’s a great goalie — and slide it over to Pomms. By the time I got down there, I don’t know if it was a forward or D-man [who] came back hard and slid [past]. That’s when I realized I was kind of on my own.’’
Vanek’s sixth goal of the season made an even greater statement about his dominance of Boston. At least that’s the way it seemed.
“It’s statistics,’’ Vanek said, downplaying his contribution. “You can call them what you want, but they’re just that. For us, this was a big win.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.