The teams split four goals over the first two periods. Buffalo opened the scoring on a power play early in the first period. With Alex Ovechkin serving a double minor for roughing (Buffalo’s Mike Weber got two minutes for roughing), Tyler Ennis and Rasmus Ristolainen worked a fine give-and-go in the middle of the ice, Ennis finishing the play for his 18th goal of the season at 5:02.
The Caps evened things up on a power play of their own just over four minutes later. A drive by Matt Niskanen was redirected by Joel Ward in the high slot, handcuffing Sabres’ goalie Anders Lindback. Unable to control the loose puck, Lindback could not prevent Curtis Glencross from poking it over his left pad and in to make it 1-1 at the 9:23 mark.
It took Buffalo just 45 seconds to break the tie. Cody Hodgson recorded his fifth goal of the season when his backhand shot was fought off by Braden Holtby, but the puck popped straight up. When it came back down it hit Holtby in the back and tumbled across the goal line to make it 2-1 at 10:08.
That was all the scoring in the first period. In the second, Mike Green tied the game for the Caps six minutes into the period when he jumped up on a loose puck deep in the right wing circle and pounded it over a fallen Lindback in the Sabres crease.
Evgeny Kuznetsov gave the Caps their first lead on a power play 5:55 into the third period. He cut to the middle of the ice, trailing Curtis Glencross, then dialed up the snap shot he has used to great effect in the Gimmick. He fired it low over Lindback’s right pad before the goalie could flinch, and it was 3-2. He would return to a similar shot later, in the freestyle competition.
The Caps could not extend the lead, and it cost them late in the third period. Johan Larsson beat Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt across the slot and had a free chance to redirect a Chad Ruhwedel drive out of mid-air down and past Holtby’s left pad to make it 3-3 at the 13:50 mark.
That would do it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the contest. Evgeny Kuznetsov opened the trick shot competition with an almost hypnotic stroll into the zone before snapping the puck like a cobra strike past Kindback’s blocker, similar to his goal-scoring effort in the hockey portion of the evening. That was enough. Holtby stopped all three Sabre freestyle attempts, and the Caps escaped with a 4-3 win.
-- Mike Green’s goal broke a 20-game goalless drought dating back to January 28th when he had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh.
-- Curtis Glencross’ goal was his fourth in six games (4-2-6). And it was his driving the middle that opened a shooting lane for Kuznetsov’s power play goal early in the third period.
-- With three goals scored against the Caps in regulation and overtime, the Sabres have scored more goals against the Caps this season (6) in three games than Boston and Pittsburgh have scored in six games against the Caps, combined (5).
-- Alex Ovechkin finished the game with 22 shot attempts – nine shots on goal, 10 shots blocked, and three misses. There are 59 skaters having dressed this season who do not have a total of 22 shot attempts.
-- With his goal in the hockey portion of the contest, Evgeny Kuznetsov is 2-2-4 in his last four games. He is now tied for second in the league in trick shot goals (6).
-- Are the Caps hot on the power play, or what? Going 2-for-2 makes them 3-for-3 in their last two games and 9-for-17 in March (52.9 percent).
-- The Caps had 38 shots on goal, their lowest total against Buffalo this season. They finished the season series having strafed Buffalo goalies for 127 shots in three games. The Caps out-attempted the Sabres by a 238-144 margin (plus-94 differential) over the three games.
-- With two assists, Matt Niskanen recorded his fifth multi-point game of the season and his first since January 27th in a 4-3 loss at Columbus.
-- Kuznetsov was the only Capital to win more than 50 percent of his draws (8-for-15).
-- You could say with some conviction that the only difference between last night and tonight for Braden Holtby was a measure of luck. One goal off a pop-up that hits him in the back on the way down, another off a give-and-go that was a product of his defense allowing too much time and space for the Sabres to set up, and a third goal on a redirect out of mid-air. It was not as if he allowed any softies.
In the end…
The Caps played at 33-1/3 while the Sabres played at 78 (it’s a vinyl thing, kids). If the Sabres had more talent, this would have been a blow out, but good on them for their effort for 60 minutes. The Caps? Well, they didn’t have the same focus they had against the Bruins. That it did not cost them an extra point can be called a good thing, we suppose. Good teams have to fight through those kinds of games. But we recall what Braden Holtby said after the 2-0 win over Boston, that his father told him it is okay to have a bad game, just don’t have two in a row. That will be the object when the Caps head to Minnesota on Thursday.