Less than 48 hours after a 7-1 humbling at the hands of the Blackhawks in Chicago, the Caps put a happy coda on their season-long four-game road trip with a 3-2 victory over the Sabres in Buffalo on Monday afternoon.
Caps coach Barry Trotz and his charges were seeking a bounce back effort from Saturday' debacle in the Windy City, and they got it, though things did get a little treacherous for the Capitals in the third period.
"For the first two periods," says Trotz, "I thought the response was really good. We didn't give them really anything. I thought we played smart. They sort of tried to clog things up through the neutral zone, so we really had to manage the puck, and I thought we managed the puck quite well. Defensively, we had to defend hard, and we did.
"In the third period, I thought we were too much on our heels and were more worried about defending than just staying on what we did the first two periods, when I thought we forechecked really well."
Video: Ovechkin, Carlson lead Capitals past Sabres, 3-2
Although the Caps came out with a significantly better start in the first 20 minutes than they did in Chicago on Saturday and than they did on their previous visit to Buffalo in November, the game was scoreless after 20 minutes of play.
"You think about where they're coming from," says Sabres coach Phil Housley of the Capitals, "after that tough loss, we knew they were going to come out with a push. For the most part, I didn't mind our game in the first. I think the shots were 14-10; it might have been a little bit more in their favor until we got our feet underneath us."
The Caps opened up the second period by successfully snuffing out 55 seconds worth of carryover power play time for the Sabres. Less than half a minute after completing that task, Washington jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
Video: Caps 365 | February 19
Washington moved the puck around the perimeter of the Buffalo zone, with John Carlson passing from right point to partner Christian Djoos at the right point. With Alex Ovechkin parked at the top of the paint, Djoos put a shot on net and Ovechkin deflected it behind Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson at 1:18 of the second period.
Officials took a second look at video of the play to confirm that Ovechkin's stick was beneath the crossbar at the moment of deflection, and the goal was upheld for a 1-0 Washington lead.
Video: WSH@BUF: Ovi puts perfect deflection on Djoos' shot
Later in the second stanza, the Caps doubled their lead on another goal that required further review. Washington again scored on a sustained offensive zone shift, moving the puck around the zone with some precision passing and with Evgeny Kuznetsov quarterbacking from high in the Buffalo zone.
Kuznetsov eventually let go of a shot, but it missed wide and bounded back toward the front of the net. From behind the net, Carlson reached in with his stick and jimmied the puck toward the goal line, where Sabres forward Kyle Okposo appearaed at first glance to have made a successful last second sweep of the goal line to keep the puck from going across.
Play continued, and was blown dead 15 seconds or so later when Kuznetsov was deemed to have committed a hi-sticking foul. At that point, the powers that be took a second look and saw that the puck had clearly gone over the line to put the Caps up 2-0 at 13:33 of the second.
Video: WSH@BUF: Carlson sneaks puck over goal line in 2nd
Carlson got credit for the goal - his 11th of the season - but did he know it was over the line and was a good goal?
"No; Kuzy was screaming," relates Carlson. "I don't even think I shot it at the net. I just kind of dug my stick in there because I saw it loose. I got lucky."
From a prone position aside the Buffalo net, Washington winger T.J. Oshie did see the puck cross the line.
"There was a little bit of [offensive] zone play there," recounts Oshie." Kuzy had the puck up top and he threw it to me in front of the net. I think he was trying to throw it at me for me to tip. I didn't really realize if it was going to hit the net or not, so I let it go. So it bounced behind the net and it was just kind of a cluster from there; I was swinging my stick lying down.
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | February 19
"John came in, and I saw it go over the line right away. I don't know what I said; I yelled 'Goal!' to the ref behind the net there. It really started with puck control and getting the puck to the net. I don't know where John came from or how he got behind the net, but it worked out."
Buffalo came out with a push in the third period, and the Caps were on their collective heels for a bit, particularly in the first half of the final frame. The Sabres spoiled Philipp Grubauer's shutout bid with an Okposo deflection goal to make it 2-1 at the 12:42 mark.
With time winding down, the Sabres pulled Johnson for an extra attacker, but Kuznetsov picked Risto Ristolainen's pocket and lofted a shot into the empty net to make it a 3-1 game with 25.9 seconds left.
Video: WSH@BUF: Kuznetsov puts late turnover into empty net
Kuznetsov's empty-netter turned into the game-winner when Evander Kane scored for Buffalo to account for the 3-2 final with just 3.3 seconds left on the clock.
"The second period was the difference for me," says Housley. "We mismanaged pucks in the neutral zone, and then at times we looked really slow because we didn't get pucks deep, and now we're playing defense and we're tired.
"Give them credit; it's a good cycle team and they use five guys on the play. [They scored] a couple of lucky goals. Good teams find a way to score goals at those times. I liked the way we responded in the third. We were one shot away from tying the game. It's unfortunate, but I really liked the way we responded in the third. That's the type of hockey that we're looking for for 60 minutes."
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | February 19