But after falling behind by a pair of goals twice, the Caps roared back in the third period to tie the game, then win it, 4-3, when Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin earned perfect 10’s on the judges’ scorecards in the freestyle competition.
The game started poorly for the Caps. Christian Ehrhoff snapped a shot off the post and behind Caps goalie Braden Holtby 3:01 into the game to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead. That is how things stayed for the rest of the first period and a minute into the second frame. Then, Ville Leino put the Sabres up by a pair when he stuffed in a rebound of a Tyler Ennis shot past Holtby at the 1:19 mark of the period.
At that point, things looked grim, but Alex Ovechkin stopped the bleeding. And we don’t mean his stitched up chin. With Ennis off for tripping and the Caps on a power play, the Sabres did the unthinkable. Defenseman Mike Weber and forward Steve Ott stood in place on the left side of the ice and watched Ovechkin circle around the edge of the left wing circle with the puck. Neither was in a position to defend when Ovechkin then ripped a wrist shot over goalie Jhonas Enroth’s glove to get the Caps within a goal just 62 seconds after the Leino goal.
Leino restored the Sabres’ two-goal lead midway through the period when he poked a loose puck lying behind Holtby the last 18 inches, and that was how the second period ended, the Sabres on top by a 3-1 margin. The third period was something else altogether. With John Carlson off for the Caps for a delay of game penalty, Braden Holtby stopped a dump-in behind his own net. He reversed the puck, sending it back up the left wing wall where it eluded Andrej Sekera. It was enough to spring Troy Brouwer free with Nicklas Backstrom on a 2-on-1 break, Jason Pominville back for the Sabres. Brouwer held the puck as he glided in, and as Pominville slid across, Brouwer snapped a shot to the short side past Enroth’s blocker to get the Caps within a goal once more at 3-2 with 2:43 gone in the third period.
Despite dominating territory over the next 17 minutes, it looked as if Enroth had every answer for the Caps’ efforts. Then, with Holtby pulled for an extra attacker, Enroth’s luck ran out. The Caps set up as if it was a power play, deploying in a 2-3-1 formation with the extra attacker, Joel Ward being the extra forward down low and Mike Green at the top of the zone. It succeeded in keeping the puck in the Sabres’ zone, the Caps feeding Green as the trigger man. The first time Green was set up, his shot from the high point went wide. But the rebound off the boards came to Nicklas Backstrom at the right wing wall. Backstrom fed Green again, and after a hitch in his windup, Green made good. His slap shot hit the post to Enroth’s right, rebounded back and off Enroth’s right shoulder, then back into the net to tie the game with just 39.2 seconds left in regulation.
That is how the 60-minute portion of the game ended, and after a five-minute overtime in which each team recorded a pair of shots, the contest went to the skills competition. Buffalo chose to shoot first, and Jason Pominville rang his shot off the left post behind Holtby. It was the last bit of room the Caps needed. Matt Hendricks resurrected his “paralyzer” move, beating Enroth to the blocker side. Then, after Tyler Ennis was stuffed on his shot attempt, Alex Ovechkin skated out as the potential game-winning trick shot. Ovechkin skated slowly in, and with Enroth looking as if he was expecting one more move, Ovechkin snapped a shot through the five hole of a frozen in place Enroth to give the Caps the extra standings point.
-- The 38 shots on goal for the Caps was the most they recorded in a game since they peppered Carolina for 40 on February 26th. Over their previous 15 games the Caps had reached the 30-shot mark only once (33 in a 4-1 loss to Boston on March 16th). Conversely, the 23 shots allowed was only the second time over the Caps’ last 17 games that they allowed fewer than 30 shots.
-- The win in extra time preserved a mark for the Caps. Only one team in the league has fewer losses in extra time than the Caps, who have but one such loss. Pittsburgh has not yet lost in extra time.
-- The Caps had 66 shot attempts for the game. Alex Ovechkin had 17 of them (and we believe the official scorer missed two other missed shots late in the third period). His ten shots on goal was a season high and was the most he had in a single game since recording ten shots on goal in a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on February 4, 2011.
-- The two point game for Mike Green (1-1-2) was his second of the season and first since a two-point effort in a 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey on January 25th, the Caps only extra time loss this season.
-- It was a four-square night for Mike Ribeiro, or rather “four-cubed". Four shots on goal, four faceoff wins, four faceoff losses. It seemed as if each of Ribeiro’s shots were excellent chances, including what was the save of the game when Ribeiro pounced on a rebound to the left of Enroth. With the goalie down, Ribeiro had an almost empty net at which to shoot. Even though it was a tough angle shot, Ribeiro had the advantage of having the puck on his forehand, but Enroth managed to get his glove up from a prone position and snare Ribeiro’s drive.
-- For the most part, Jack Hillen had a tough game. But he gritted out a second-highest among Cap defensemen 25:19 of ice time, including 3:01 of ice time in the overtime.
-- Brooks Laich had a bit of difficulty in this one. In 19:33 of ice time he did not attempt a shot on goal, won only three of ten draws, and looked to take a skate toe in the leg when he threw a hip check.
-- Ovechkin’s power play goal made it a league-leading 11th for him, and it was the sixth time in the last seven games that the Caps recorded a power play goal. Ovechkin has four of them.
-- Consider these time on ice numbers: 27:16, 25:19, 24:55, 21:45, 13:44, 11:05. What two look out of place? Yeah, those are the ice time numbers for the defense, and the last two are those of Steve Oleksy and Jeff Schultz.
-- Joel Ward…no shots, no shot attempts, no hits, no giveaways, no takeaways, no blocked shots, no faceoffs taken. But for a plus-1 (the Green game-tying goal), he had a clean score sheet. Yeah, and Buffalo didn’t score any goals with him on the ice, either. We'll call that a pretty good game.
In the end…