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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