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The Buffalo Sabres appear to have recovered from the offensive slump that hounded them for three weeks. Thomas Vanek is largely responsible for the turnaround.
Vanek and the Sabres look to continue their recent surge and win their fourth straight game Friday night when they host the Northeast Division rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
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After averaging a respectable 3.0 goals during its 9-3-3 start, Buffalo (14-11-3) was held to 1.9 per game while getting outscored 37-19 during a 2-8-0 stretch from Nov. 14-Dec. 4.
Since then, however, the Sabres have scored four goals apiece in three straight victories. With a win Friday, they'll match their season-opening four-game run.
Not surprisingly, Vanek has keyed the Sabres' recent surge. The team leader with 27 points and NHL leader with 22 goals has scored at least one goal in each game during Buffalo's run, including two in a 4-2 comeback win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
"It's just a testament to how talented he really is," said right wing Drew Stafford, who also scored Wednesday. "When he gets opportunities, we have a lot of faith that he's going to bury those."
Jason Pominville, who's second on the team with nine goals, has played alongside Vanek since Vanek broke into the NHL in 2005-06.
"I don't think there's enough good things to say about his game right now," Pominville said. "I've seen him score in so many ways. He's playing really well."
The Sabres will try to continue their resurgence against the Maple Leafs (10-12-6), who are hoping for a similar turnaround behind Jason Blake.
With six points in his last three games, Blake is beginning to look like the impact player the Leafs expected when they signed him to a five-year, $20 million contract before last season.
A 40-goal scorer in his last season with the New York Islanders in 2006-07, Blake had only 15 in 2007-08.
"Obviously everyone knows I'm here to provide offense and scoring and it hasn't come together here," said Blake, who has five goals and 11 assists this season. "It's disappointing - believe me, I'm just as disappointed as everybody else. I pride myself on a lot of things and it's just nice to contribute."
Blake had a goal and two assists to help the Maple Leafs snap a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 victory over the Islanders on Monday night.
Toronto also got a boost from Jeremy Williams, who was called up from the AHL on Sunday to replace injured left wing Niklas Hagman. Williams had one goal and an assist in his season debut, and Leafs coach Ron Wilson hinted that he may have played his way into at least another game, even if Hagman (concussion) is ready to return Friday.
Williams has been called up from the minors four times over four seasons and has scored in his first game each time.
"I guess he's done this a few times in the past, had a good first game," Wilson said. "Now the big thing for him is not to let it get to his head and keep doing the things he was doing tonight."
This is the first meeting of the season between these division rivals. Buffalo went 5-3-0 in last season's series, but split four meetings at home.
UPDATED 7:25 PM: Defenseman Craig Rivet will not play in tonight's game with an upper body injury
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