Capitals rally past Sabers in a shootout


Alex Ovechkin unbuckled his chin strap and watched from the back of the bench as defenseman Rasmus Sandin went down with his left knee against the Buffalo Sabers on Wednesday night. The crowd at Capital One Arena fell silent as Sandin collapsed on the ice. Eventually he got up and walked back to the bench and hobbled down the tunnel in pain.

With just six seconds remaining in the second third, Ovechkin glanced at the scoreboard above the ice. What he saw was frightening: a two-goal deficit in a game you had to win against a side who were level with them in the table. Several key players were beaten up. So Ovechkin did what he has been doing for a long time – he turned the team on their backs in the third period. He scored to draw the Capitals within one and then was on the power play unit, leveling with Tom Wilson’s goal 68 seconds from time. When Evgeny Kuznetsov and TJ Oshie scored in the shootout, the Capitals had a 5-4 win and two crucial points in the Eastern Conference wildcard chase.

“You don’t want to miss any games at this time of year. . . . It’s just not possible,” said Ovechkin, whose team recovered after 0-2, 1-3 and 2-4. “Huge win. Huge points.”

Sandin eventually returned in the third period, feeding Ovechkin three consecutive one-timers in the final minute of overtime. But after everyone missed the net, the Capitals and Sabers — who each went into the night with 71 points — headed to the skills contest.

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Ovechkin, who had been cleared for the game just hours earlier with a lower body injury that forced him in Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers, had done everything in his power to get the Capitals back in the game Game to bring Wednesday’s game after they conceded two goals on the Sabers’ first three shots.

Midway through the first third, he settled into his normal place on the power play, cocking his racquet back as if about to uncork one of his signature slap shots. That was enough to fool the Sabers, and Ovechkin matched the puck in the crease instead. It led to Oshie’s goal to reduce the deficit to 2-1. On his next shift, Ovechkin shot across the ice to deliver a crushing check, stole the puck and fed Sandin for another look at the net. Though he didn’t put in a shot, the Capitals charged the net all night, desperate to not give up an inch in a game they had to have.

“Every game has to be a playoff mentality for us,” Oshie said. “There was a certain desperation out there that you usually see in the postseason.”

Washington had felt Buffalo’s offensive power in a 7-4 loss late last month, and it wasn’t long before the Sabers jumped on goaltender Charlie Lindgren, making his first start since Feb. 24.

Ilya Lyubushkin smacked Lindgren with a wrister that got through traffic to make it 1-0 just under five minutes into the game. The visitors took a 2-0 lead after rookie JJ Peterka found an odd man after a charge at 8:50 of the half period.

After Oshie scored on the power play just over a minute later, the Capitals followed up with one of their best possessions of the night — including a near-pick from Oshie that would have leveled the game. But when the puck splashed onto the blue line, Capitals winger Conor Sheary was tied with Buffalo forward Casey Mittelstadt in a race for the puck. Both players fell to their knees – Sheary and the Capitals unsuccessfully looking for a penalty – while Tyson Jost picked up the loose puck and hit Lindgren with a wrister to put Washington in a two-goal hole for the second straight year.

“The coach let me fight through it. After that first time you could tell that maybe I wasn’t feeling too well, but he let me stay home and I’m very grateful for that. I was able to fight my way through it,” said Lindgren.

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The Capitals recorded the first nine shots of the third period and trailed to 3-2 after Kuznetsov found the net from just 92 seconds. But Washington struggled to counter Buffalo’s superior speed; Also as Sandin returned to the ice early in the third period, Sabers forward Zemgus Girgensons scored to increase the lead to 4-2 with 14:38 remaining after regulation.

Ovechkin drew Washington within 4-3 with a tip-in with 9:30 remaining. Washington made a power play in the final two minutes from an Alex Tuch penalty, and Wilson leveled the game with 1:08 to go through a feed from Backstrom.

Around 45 minutes later, Ovechkin was one of the last players to leave the Capitals’ locker room after the win. He signed some sticks and played with his son. Wilson also stayed close and shared a few laughs with the captain after they found a way to win.

“There’s nothing quite like having Ovi in ​​the room,” Wilson said. “He’s so present. If he’s not there, you can certainly feel it. He definitely brought some life.”

Here’s what else you should know about the Capitals win:

Forward Sonny Milano missed a second straight game with a non-covid illness. That forced Capitals coach Peter Laviolette to shuffle his lines for a second straight night, putting Sheary in the third row alongside Dylan Strome and Oshie, while Aliaksei Protas in the fourth row with Nic Dowd and Nicolas for a second straight night Aube-Kubel played.

The Capitals went into the night with a 10.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to, and were five points behind the New York Islanders (76 points) for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

While the Islanders were scheduled to play the Anaheim Ducks later Wednesday night, the Capitals’ win put them level with the Florida Panthers on 73 points; the Panthers have two games in hand and play the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Still hot on Washington’s heels are the Sabers (72 points), Ottawa Senators (70 points) and Detroit Red Wings (69 points); All three of those teams have two games on their hands against the Capitals. Capitals rally past Sabers in a shootout

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