During a 2-on-1, Vanek tried to pass the puck from along the right-wing boards to teammate Nathan Paetsch in the slot, but the puck deflected off Tampa Bay defenseman Shane O'Brien into the net with 40.5 seconds left.
"I was just trying to get down and stop the pass from going across and I stopped it, but it went in," O'Brien said,
Vincent Lecavalier gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead on a wrist shot from the right circle during a 5-on-3 power play at 6:14 of the third. The Sabres pulled even at 3 when Paetsch stopped a personal 22-game goal drought, scoring the low left-circle with 6:47 remaining in the period.
We poured on as much as we could," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "With three games in four nights, and the back-to-back games, I thought that our guys gave it everything they had and they were rewarded for how hard they worked."
Lecavalier had a potential winning goal disallowed with 2:56 left in third when the officials ruled Tampa Bay right wing Martin St. Louis interferred with Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
"The goal should be disallowed, there's no question," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "The goalie was not able to do his job with Marty being there. It's the right call."
Vinny Prospal and Michel Ouellet also scored for the Lightning. The loss was Tampa Bay's first at home in six games this season.
Prospal and Ouellet scored 1 minute, 20 seconds apart early in the second to put Tampa Bay ahead 2-0. Prospal has nine goals in nine games this season.
Less than two minutes after Miller made a strong save on Prospal's in-close shot, Afinogenov got the Sabres within 2-1 at 9:30 of the second. Gaustad tied it at 2 on a power-play goal with 5:32 left in the period.
"A big step for us," said Miller, who made 31 saves. "Tonight was a great opportunity for us to stick together and prove we could win the game. We were down two goals quick in the second period and we didn't give up. We came right back."
Paetsch said Afinogenov's goal was key.
"I think we finally started skating," Paetsch said. "We came out a little flat-footed. We just needed that one spark and as soon as Max threw that one on net, it seemed like out legs got underneath us and we really started going."
The Lightning, 0-3 on the road this season, start a three-game road trip Monday at the New York Rangers. ... Tampa Bay D Dan Boyle (wrist surgery) continues working out with the team and could return to the lineup in the near future. ... Free agent D Nolan Pratt practiced with the Sabres this weekend on a tryout basis. Ruff said Pratt looked good during the workouts, but said there was no final decision on whether he will be signed. ... Buffalo is without injured D Jaroslav Spacek (shoulder) and D Dmitri Kalinin (knee). ... Monica Seles visited the Sabres locker room after the game.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
Arena: Tampa Bay Times Forum Location: Tampa, Florida
Referees: Chris Lee, Brad Meier Linesmen: Brian Murphy, Darren Gibbs
Attendance: 19,804 (100.2% full)
Team Stat Comparison
Power Play Goals
Power Play Opportunities
Shots on Goal
No scoring this period
Vinny Prospal (9)
Assists: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis
Michel Ouellet (2)
Assists: Chris Gratton, Mathieu Darche
Maxim Afinogenov (2)
Assists: Thomas Vanek, Nathan Paetsch
Paul Gaustad (3)
(Power Play) Assists: Tim Connolly, Brian Campbell
Vincent Lecavalier (5)
(Power Play) Assists: Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards
Nathan Paetsch (1)
Assists: Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht