BUFFALO | With their season hanging in the balance, the Washington Capitals rallied to eke out a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center Saturday night, opening a critical road trip by getting two valuable standings point.
A poor start put the Capitals in a 3-1 hole early in the third period, but a shorthanded tally by Troy Brouwer and a last-minute tally by Mike Green forced overtime, where Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin both scored on Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth in the shootout.
Ovechkin turned in a tremendous effort in Washington’s only visit to Buffalo, scoring his 17th of the year and also adding the deciding shootout goal.
The win comes at a critical time, as they gain points on the Jets, Rangers and Islanders, moving just five points back of Winnipeg in the Southeast race, and two back of the Rangers in the chase for 8th in the East.
Buffalo – a team missing their top sniper in Thomas Vanek, having traded defenseman Jordan Leopold, and playing backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth – scored just 3:01 into the game and didn’t trail again until Braden Holtby was pulled for the extra attacker. While the Caps nearly won the game in overtime, the shootout allowed Washington to steal two points out of Western New York.
The Sabres started off quickly, cashing in early on a turnover in the Washington end, as Christian Ehrhoff fired a shot past Holtby to put the Sabres on the board just 3:01 in. While Washington got a four-minute power-play when Mike Weber went to the box for a high-stick, the Caps couldn’t take advantage, having difficulty setting up on the extra-man advantage.
The Sabres boosted their lead to 2-0 just 79 seconds into the second as Villie Leino scored his first of the year past Holtby off a rebound of a Tyler Ennis shot.
Tyler Ennis went to the box just :28 after the goal, however, and the Capitals took advantage. Alex Ovechkin scored just :34 into the power-play to bring the Capitals within one, firing a shot past Enroth, and giving him his 17th of the year.
But another bad breakdown in the Washington end proved costly, as Leino was allowed to poke a puck sitting off the post just past the halfway mark of the frame.
While Washington outshot the Sabres 17-8 in the second, the Capitals fell further behind in the contest.
Troy Browuer cut the lead to 3-2 with a short-handed tally with John Carlson in the box for a delay-of-game penalty, beating Enroth with a wrister for his 13th of the year. Despite a power-play opportunity on a Tyler Myers hit on Jason Chimera, the Capitals pushed and couldn’t net the equalizer until the final minute.
With Holtby out, the Caps controlled the biscuit, but couldn’t beat Enroth. However, Green unleashed a shot from the point that went off the post and off the Sabres netminder to earn the Caps the valuable point.
Mike Ribeiro had a golden chance to end the game in overtime with Enroth down, but the netminder put in a terrific glove save. But in the shootout, both Hendricks and Ovechkin netted goals as the Caps moved to 2-0 for the year in the tiebreaker.
With just two games left until the trade deadline – and a chance to gain further ground Sunday in Philadelphia – the Capitals will see if they can cut the deficit further and try and to recover from the poor start to the season.