Ovechkin celebration

Just another night at the office for Ovechkin: a goal, two assists and the invention of a new dance. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

NHL referee Bill McCreary is honored with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Melissa, along with Vice President and Caps General Manger George McPhee of the Washington Capitals before officiating his final NHL game

Referee Bill McCreary is honored with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Melissa, along with Vice President and Caps General Manger George McPhee before officiating his final NHL game. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

On Fan Appreciation Day, the Capitals certainly rewarded their supporters. In front of 18,398 deafening fans — good for the Caps’ 100th consecutive sellout — Washington pulled out a thrilling overtime victory, moving into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps struck first and early when just 37 seconds in John Carlson fired a wrist shot that Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth failed to collect. The red-hot Mike Knuble then did his usual dirty work in the crease to net the opening tally.

Washington jumped out to a two goal lead at 4:41 when Alexander Semin — who was on the ice for eight chances for and three against — scored a similar goal to Knuble’s, tapping in Nicklas Backstrom’s rebound behind Enroth. PANIC!!!1 Timeout Buffalo.

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A Solid Sixty Minutes of Hockey: Caps Spear Sabres, 2-1

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“Perry, we did it! We actually score on power play!” (Photo credit: Rick Stewart)

After going 1-4 in their last five games — all against Western Conference foes — the Caps headed back to the friendly confines of the east coast on Sunday, hoping to right the ship versus Buffalo. Facing a hungry Sabres team in a nationally televised matchup, Washington was certainly up to the task.

The first period may have been scoreless but it certainly wasn’t uneventful. The Capitals managed 16 shots but Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was fantastic, making big saves throughout the frame. Washington also had four power play chances in the period, including over a minute and a half on the two man advantage. However, the Caps PP continued their struggles, failing to convert as Miller remained strong.

Mathieu Perreault would finally break Miller’s streak in the second stanza. After an odd bounce in the corner, the puck kicked out to the front of the net. Perreault took advantage, putting the Caps up 1-0. However, after Brooks Laich was called for goalie interference, the Sabres would head to the power play. At 8:20 Jason Pominville converted on the man advantage, getting the puck past a screened Semyon Varlamov to knot the score at one.

Midway through the third, former Cap Shaone Morrisonn was whistled for interference, once again putting Washington on the power play. But this time, it actually worked. Alex Ovechkin skated the puck into zone before firing a shot on Miller who made the stop. However, the biscuit went to waiting Perreault. With a little help from Marcus Johansson — whose deflection awarded him the marker — Perreault put the puck in the back of net, giving the Capitals the lead. Buffalo attempted a rally but Varlamov stayed strong. Caps beat Sabres, 2-1.

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Bradley’s Big Night: Caps beat Sabres 4-2

Matt Bradley celebrates his goal with the Caps bench.

ROBO-BRADLEY DOES NOT COMPUTE POST-GOAL EMOTION. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Michal Neuvirth and Mike Green celebrate their 7th straight victory at home. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Michal Neuvirth and Mike Green celebrate their 7th straight victory at home. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Last week’s loss at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres inflicted more psychological damage than anything else. The Washington Capitals have been adjusting line combinations and trying chemistry experiments ever since. Like a gauntlet thrown down, tonight’s game challenged the Capitals to play a complete hour of hockey for the first time in a while. Not quite there yet, guys.

On a 5-on-3 power play, Alex Semin set up Nicky Backstrom for a backdoor knock-in. Matt Bradley followed that up by converting an excellent pass from Jason Chimera. That same line hooked up for the third goal, again facilitated by Chimera, but put in net by a well-timed shot from David Steckel. For a while it looked like Ryan Miller had been defeated, but the Sabres recovered with a two-goal burst in the second period sponsored by Derek Roy and Jordan Leopold. Goalie Michal Neuvirth reasserted himself in third period, turning away all ten attempts. With the Buffalo net abandoned, Alex Semin launched an ICBM from the Caps zone to punctuate it. Caps beat Sabres 4-2.

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A Caps Fan in Buffalo Territory

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Braden Holtby heeds the direction of Bruce Boudreau during Caps practice at HSBC Arena.

[Ed. note – Was it oversight, kismet, or charity? Regardless, Buffalo-based Caps fan and RMNB reader, Stephanie Carosa, got to watch what should have been a closed practice on Saturday. She shares that story and her recollections from the miserable game with the Sabres below.]

I live in Buffalo, so I have only two chances to see the Capitals in my own city. Every time they come it’s a big deal to me, and Saturday night was no exception. I was determined to make it a full day of hockey, so I planned on going to practice in the morning and the game at night.

The Sabres’ morning skates at HSBC Arena are open to the public, and you can often catch a glimpse of players on the visiting team hanging around. I got there early so I could grab a seat behind the Caps bench. Even though the Caps were foremost on my mind, I was excited to see Ryan Miller on the ice  after being sidelined for almost two weeks due to injury. Towards the end of practice, I caught a quick glimpse of Chimera in the tunnel. *Gasp! First Caps sighting of the day!* A few minutes later, John Erskine appeared *Gasp! Two Caps!*, and then Harry Neale (the Sabres and former Hockey Night in Canada color guy who is known for his, er, quick wit?) came out and joked around with him for a bit.

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Vanek and Kaput: Sabres beat Caps 3-2 (OT)

Thomas Vanek scores the OTGWG.

Former Capital Mike Grier was honored before the game for playing in his 1,000th career game tonight.

Former Capital Mike Grier was honored before the game for playing in his 1,000th career game tonight. (Photo credit: Bill Wippert)

Sigh. Thomas Vanek scores the OTGWG. (Photo credit: Rick Stewart)

Without Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres are not really daunting foes. The well-haired goalie had been convalescing with a hip injury for the last handful of games and returned to the Washington Capitals’ distinct displeasure. But with a stiff upper lip, the Caps entered the fray in nigh-Canada. Sort of.

Karl Alzner opened the game with a laser through traffic that found a wide swathe of net behind Ryan Miller. The second period was an unbridled embarrassment. The Sabres scored twice (a well-screened bomb by Montador and a fluke by Vanek). For their part the Capitals simply refused to play offense of any kind, offering only four shots across the middle frame. To qualify that, Jason Chimera spent four minutes in the box for a cross check that might have been overblown a bit, and Tomas Fleischmann also caught a double minor for a freak high sticking that carried no aggression.

Nicklas Backstrom allowed 7 minutes to escape the third period before equalizing with a high swat. Ten minutes later, a suspicious high sticking call earned Backy a double minor (the Caps’ third of the game). The Capitals survived another backbreaking penalty kill all the way into overtime. Things look liked they were headed towards the shootout until Thomas Vanek suckered Carlson and Holtby in sequence to score a sharp-looking OTGWG. Bummer, I know, but at least the Caps take a point home. Sabres beat Caps 3-2 (OT).

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