|ReCap: Capitals @ Sabres by: Mike Smuland March 26, 2002|
|Washington continued its bad habit - spotting their opponent a two-goal lead for the seventh time in the nine games - but Dainius Zubrus had some impressive numbers of his own to lead the Caps to a 4-3 victory.
Zubrus had his first career four point game, getting three primary assists and one goal to show for his hard work. Zubrus had developed quite well at the center position, using his skating ability to carry the puck over the blue line and his strength to set up camp down low.
Combined with a 2-1 Florida victory over Montreal, Washington now sits in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals players and coaches were jubilant on the ice, exchanging grins and high-fives following their hard-fought win.
The Caps didn't make things easy on themselves when they let in a soft goal just 70 seconds into tonight's contest. Taylor Pyatt collected a rebound in the slot - despite being surrounded by four Caps poking at the puck - and buried his chance.
Washington began to cycle and grind along the Buffalo boards, but couldn't seal the deal over the next five minutes. Buffalo got their first power play opportunity at 7:31 for boarding on a poor decision by Steve Konowalchuk.
Buffalo scored at 8:25 on beautiful power play. The Sabres got the puck to Jason Wooley at the point. The former Capital made a sweeping pass to the slot, where Chris Gratton one-timed a tap pass over to Miroslav Satan; Satan blasted his open chance to the near post.
Save for some excellent back checking by the Buffalo forwards, Washington would have closed the score in the following minutes. At 16:47, they got their chance on their first power play of the night. Dainius Zubrus took a pass from Glen Metropolit and found Ken Klee wide-open in the slot. Klee sent a pretty wrist shot through a defender's legs and past goalie Martin Biron. The goal was Klee's second in as many nights.
The Capitals came out flying in the second period, but forgot to keep good tabs on one another. Thirty seconds into the period Jaromir Jagr crashed into Fran Kucera in Buffalo's zone. The Capitals defensive minutes leader had to be assisted off the ice and sat out the remainder of the contest with a shoulder stinger.
The Caps regained their composure and continued to press. Brendan Witt was credited with the tying goal at 6:38, taking a nice feed from Zubrus through the defense and sending the puck at the goal, where young Buffalo defenseman Dmitri Kalinin accidentally deflected it past Biron.
Jaromir Jagr's back checking earned him a hooking penalty with five minutes left in the second, but saved a goal. Washington shut down the Sabres' power play and ended the third period 2-2.
Washington kept the pressure on in the third and it paid off immediately. Ulf Dahlen was tripped just thirty seconds in and eleven seconds later the Capitals had a 3-2 lead. Dainius Zubrus showed great patience, reaching a rebound from the side of Biron and sweeping his stick in a half circle past the sprawling goaltender.
The refs put away their whistles for the next five minutes until calling Benoit Hogue for holding. Fifteen seconds into the Buffalo power play, Miroslav Satan had his second power play goal of the night and the crowd came to life. Satan brilliantly redirected a hard slapshot from the point, roofing it past a sliding Olie Kolzig.
Buffalo's first goal in nearly forty minutes brought them back to life and they controlled the game more than at any other point. Five minutes after the Buffalo goal, Andrei Nikolishin was wide-open in the slot, but fanned on the shot two times in succession.
A great play with just two minutes remaining in regulation gave Washington a win and two point separation over the Sabres. Brendan Witt reached forward with a timely poke check at his own blue line that went directly to Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus didn't hesitate, immediately tapping the puck forward to Chris Simon who had circled back up ice with a good head of steam. Simon crossed over the blue line and ripped a shot that beat Biron seven-hole (under the arm, between the chest and the blocker pad), giving Simon his first goal in the month of March and Washington an important 4-3 win.
+ Jaromir Jagr now has points in seven straight games and third most in the NHL.
+ Brendan Witt delivered some great hits to go with his goal tonight. Witt has looked sharp over the past couple games (unless you agree with a Buffalo player's overhead on-ice comment, "Get a haircut, you [f'ing] hippie.")
- Washington needs to become more consistent at clearing out their crease.
- The Capitals' third line continues to grind and cycle well, but lack the ability to finish their chances. It might be time for Dahlen to move to the top line in place of Glen Metropolit who continues to create, but lacks Dahlen's scoring ability.
- Nikolishin continues his struggles, but retains his spot on the second line as the only natural center in the line-up. He has been phenomenal on face-offs during his scoring lull.
The lineup shuffle continued for the Caps with Joe Sacco sitting out and Benoit Hogue reinstated after one game as a healthy scratch, earning his first point with the Caps...Sergei Gonchar sat out his third game recovering from a concussion...Big, bad Nolan Yonkman (6'6" 240, 21 years old) was in the line-up tonight after being recalled from Portland...Patrick Boileau was returned to Portland. He has spent more time traveling up and down than playing for the Caps this season...Buffalo used 11 forwards and 7 defensemen on a rotating basis.