Thomas Vanek spent most of last year's postseason limping around, unable to play because of an ankle injury. By tormenting Tampa Bay yet again Tuesday, he's put the Buffalo Sabres on the cusp of a return trip to the playoffs.

It's obvious neither he nor his team plan to limp in this year.

Vanek's three goals propelled the Sabres to a 4-2 victory over the Lightning, a win that gave Buffalo two of the three points needed to punch its postseason ticket. The seventh-place Sabres can clinch the trip from their couches tonight. If ninth-place Carolina loses to Detroit, the Hurricanes would stay five points back of Buffalo with only four points available.

"Three months ago we just talked about playing better hockey, just get a chance," Vanek said. "We're still not quite there yet, but we're in a good position."

Vanek did his best to put them there. He scored Buffalo's first two goals to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead, then clinched the victory with a shot that beat goaltender Dwayne Roloson back to the vacated cage with 13.6 seconds left.

The goals increased Vanek's total to 31, the fourth time he's reached the 30-goal mark, and gives Buffalo two 30-goal scorers (Drew Stafford is the other) for the first time since 2007-08. The left winger is more concerned about getting playoff action.