It was fan appreciation night at Verizon Center and the fans got their money’s worth as the Caps blew a two goal lead, had to come back twice and win it in overtime to down the Buffalo Sabres and take sole possession of first in the Eastern Conference for the first time since December 3rd, 2010.
The Caps started off hot, 37 seconds into the game Mike Knuble knocked in a John Carlson rebound off a 2 on 1 and the Caps were rolling. A little more than four minutes later Alex Semin knocked in a Nicklas Backstrom rebound and the Caps were up 2-0 early. The Sabres called time out, regrouped and scored two goals, first by Thomas Vanek and then by Drew Stafford, Michal Neuvirth looked shaky on both, and within the first ten minutes we were tied at 2. The Caps led 14-11 on shots, but both teams were playing like it was a playoff game.
Nobody scored in the second period, but Michal Neuvirth looked a lot better and Bruce Boudreau said later he was more composed. In the third though, Paul Gaustad gave the Sabres their first lead of the game on a Caps defensive breakdown that led to an open rush to the net and he put the moves on Neuvirth to give them a 3-2 lead. Less than two minutes later though Mike Knuble deflected a Brooks Laich shot from the point on the power play in and tied it up at three. A little over two minutes later though, the Caps were killing a penalty and John Carlson got out of position and had to rush back when Drew Stafford went to the net, Stafford got blocked but Carlson’s momentum pushed in the goal and the Sabres had the lead once again. But the Caps came back, again, with only 51.3 remaining in the game, the Caps pulled their goalie and had a power play and Jason Arnott backhanded in an Ovechkin shot and tied it at four leading the Caps to their third overtime game in a row.
A little over three minutes into overtime, the great eight, Alex Ovechkin shot it and it was deflected off a Sabres player and in to give the Caps a 5-4 win and sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since December 3rd. The Caps are 46-22-11, 103 points and are 7-2-1 in their last 10. The Flyers do though have a game in hand, but have been struggling down the stretch going 4-3-3. For the fourth game in a row the Caps lost a defenseman and had to rotate five, this time it was Tyler Sloan who Boudreau said “got his bell rung” and is day to day. Caps defenseman Scott Hannan is all to familiar with rotating five defenseman this season,“It shows the depth they have here. On D[defense], to have that many guys go out and still be able to put them in to play. We are going to need that going down the stretch to the playoffs. Things happen with injuries with things that happen in the playoffs and it’s good to know that everyone can come in a play a certain role.”
The Caps went 2-2 on the power play and after the game Bruce Boudreau was pleased, “Any time we can score a power-play goal it’s a beautiful thing. We had gone a long time without scoring when we pulled the goalie and I think we’ve done it twice now in the last couple of weeks. It shows a great drive.” Michal Neuvirth had 34 saves in netting his 26th win of the season. The Caps are 38-0-3 when scoring three or more goals this season and 25-3-4 when scoring a power play goal.
The Caps only have three regular season games remaining and head on the road for a quick game in Toronto on Tuesday and then right back to play the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center on Wednesday. The Caps do have tomorrow off but will practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex at 10:30am on Monday. Tonight was the Capitals 100th consecutive sell out. Check out what Bruce Boudreau, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson had to say following the win.
1st :37 Knuble (22), Carlson (29), Ovechkin (50)
1st 4:41 Semin (28), Backstrom (43), Sturm (10)
3rd 14:18 PP Knuble (23), Laich (29), Backstrom (44)
3rd 19:08 PP Arnott (17), Ovechkin (51), Semin (26)
OT 3:19 Ovechkin (30), Carlson (30), Backstrom (45)
Bruce Boudreau Postgame Audio
Alex Ovechkin Postgame Audio
Nicklas Backstrom Postgame Audio
Mike Knuble Postgame Audio
Marcus Johansson Postgame Audio
Sky Kerstein is 106.7 The FAN’s Capitals Beat Reporter and co-host of “Morning Skate” every Sunday from 9am-10am on 106.7 The FAN. Also you can find video recaps of every Caps game and post-game interviews on www.1067thefandc.com. You can get in touch with Sky on Facebook or via Twitter at www.twitter.com/SkyKerstein.