By the time 40 minutes had been played inside of First Niagara Center Saturday night, a lot of nervous Caps fans had gnawed away at their fingernails. The hometown Buffalo Sabres had a 3-1 lead and a back-up goalie playing beautifully. But the final period of regulation was all Washington. When the deciding shootout was complete, Washington had earned a gut-check 4-3 win if there ever was one.
The Sabres traded away defenseman Jordan Leopold in the afternoon. GM Darcy Regier held a news conference prior to the game explaining that the team would be willing to entertain offers for more of its assets.
Normally once that flag is waved, a team doesn’t put forth one of its better efforts, but Buffalo played well.
They took a 1-0 advantage less than four minutes in when Christian Ehrhoff snuck in from his point position and snapped a wrist shot over the glove of Braden Holtby.
The Caps had numerous chances to tie in the opening frame, several of which belonged to Alex Ovechkin, but Jhonas Enroth was up to the test in the Sabres goal.
Buffalo improved its lead quickly in the second period. Tyler Ennis broke in down his off-wing and fired a low shot that was kicked out by Holtby. Unfortunately, the rebound caromed directly to Ville Leino who buried his first goal of the season at 1:19 of the frame.
Shortly thereafter Ennis would go off for a tripping penalty and Washington’s vaunted power-play, which failed on a four-minute advantage in the opening period, would strike. Ovechkin whipped a lethal wrist shot past the left ear of Enroth and into the cage at 2:21 of the second.
The Sabres have the worst power-play in the league statistically, but they have managed to score PPGs against the Caps in each of the last two meetings. Tonight it would be Leino, again on the doorstep, to deposit an easy rebound on a loose puck at the goal-line to make it 3-1.
There was one period left to play and the Caps would make the most of it. With John Carlson off for a delay of game penalty early in the frame, Braden Holtby sent a pass from the Caps defensive ahead to Troy Brouwer who moved in on a 2-on-1 break shorthanded with Nicklas Backstrom. Brouwer barely looked in the direction of the Swede before he ripped a shot past the blocker of Enroth. The shorthanded goal brought Washington within one tally at 2:43 of the third.
The Caps continued to put a lot of pressure on Enroth, and the man who serves as the understudy to Ryan Miller was very strong in turning them back.
Ovechkin had an outstanding game and a season-high 10 shots on goal, but Enroth kept making key saves on him. Mike Green uncorked a 45-foot slapshot that clanged off the goal post. None of the Enroth stops was more outstanding then a head-long, diving glove save on Mike Ribeiro late in the third which kept the Sabres in a one-goal lead.
Head Coach Adam Oates would lift Holtby with a over a minute left in regulation and the Caps were buzzing. Green would send another mid-point blast toward the cage that pretty much rattled off the same spot on the post as his previous bid, but this time the bounce went off of Enroth and into the goal. The game was tied up with only 40 seconds separating the Caps from what would have been a bitter defeat.
No one would draw blood in the overtime, and then the Caps would make quick work of the shootout.
Jason Pominville hit the post on the first attempt for the Sabres.
Matt Hendricks beat Enroth on a deke to his forehand to give the Caps the lead.
Tyler Ennis was denied by the right-leg pad of Holtby on his forehand deke.
The kill-shot would be delivered by Ovechkin, who snapped a 15-footer between the pads of Enroth to salt away a dramatic come-from-behind win.
The Caps are right back in action Easter Sunday in Philadelphia. Our coverage on Comcast SportsNet begins at 6 p.m.