April 11 vs. Buffalo Sabres at Key Bank Center

Time: 7:00 p.m.


Stream: MonSports.net/Stream

Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7

Washington Capitals (37-30-11)

Buffalo Sabres (37-37-5)

On Thursday night in Buffalo, the Caps conclude their last multi-game road trip of the 2023-24 regular season and play their penultimate road contest of the campaign when they face the Sabres here for the second time this month. The Caps dropped a 6-2 decision here nine nights ago, on April 2.

The Caps come to town on the heels of one of their most significant regular season wins in the last couple of seasons, a gritty 2-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday night. Tuesday’s triumph stopped the Caps’ six-game slide (0-4-2) and lifted Washington past Detroit and back into a playoff position, and back into control of its playoff destiny with just four games – in six nights – remaining on the season.

Charlie Lindgren stopped 42 of 43 shots he faced, coming within 1.1 seconds of notching his sixth shutout of the season; Detroit’s Patrick Kane spoiled the whitewash bid just ahead of the final buzzer.

Dylan Strome and Alex Ovechkin supplied the Washington offense, scoring 125 seconds apart in the latter stages of the second period to lift the Caps to victory. Strome’s goal was his 300th career NHL point, and Ovechkin’s goal was his 30th of the season; he is the only player in NHL history to record as many as 18 seasons with 30 or more goals.

Ovechkin’s surge of 21 goals in the last 31 games enabled him to reach 30 for the 18th time in 19 seasons; since the All-Star break, only Auston Matthews (26), Kirill Kaprizov (23) and Zach Hyman (22) have scored more goals.

“It’s pretty big,” says Ovechkin, of his newest NHL mark. “It’s consistency, and obviously health, and my linemates, my teammates who find me out there, who find me in an open spot, open ice.”

Ovechkin’s Tuesday tally was the 129th game-winning goal of his career; he sits just six back of all-time NHL leader Jaromir Jagr (135) in that department.

But Tuesday night in Detroit, Lindgren was the backstopper, the skid stopper, and the show- stopper. His masterful performance resulted in the 50th victory of his NHL career. Twenty-two of those wins have come this season, and 35 of them have been recorded since he joined the Capitals at the beginning of the 2022-23 season.

Lindgren was sharp from the start of Tuesday’s game, and he had to be. Each of the first three shots he faced were slot shots, and he made 18 of his 42 stops in the game’s first 20 minutes.

“Obviously, it feels good having a good start, and I just want to carry it forward,” says Lindgren. “We knew how important this game was; to me, it felt like a do or die game. We’re coming off a few games in a row where we’re on the wrong side of it, and playing against a team that’s right next to us in the standings, I felt like it was a must win situation, and we needed to get some momentum back. I thought the guys dug in hard tonight, and we found a way to get a big win.”

The analytics of Tuesday’s game weren’t pretty, but they’ve rarely been so even during the last two months as the Caps have climbed their way up the Eastern Conference standings ladder. Washington’s goal differential and its shot differential continue to be unsightly, but they keep finding ways to win when they absolutely must

Buffalo’s Tuesday night loss to the Stars in Dallas extinguished the Sabres’ playoff hopes for another season; the franchise – and particularly the fanbase – has now suffered through 13 straight playoff misses. Over those 13 seasons, Buffalo’s cumulative .449 points percentage ranks last in the NHL, and that spans 990 regular season contests.

Regardless of the Sabres’ position in the standings, they’ve typically been a difficult foe for the Capitals to face over the years. Washington has emerged victorious from just 32 of its 89 visits (32-48-6-3) to western New York over the years. The Sabres have won each of the last two games between the two teams in Buffalo, outscoring the Caps by a combined total of 13-6 in the two games.

Tuesday’s game was an obviously massive win for Washington, but the Caps can’t rest on their laurels. The way this “race” for the final two playoff berths has played out over the last two months, four games is an eternity, and much volatility could still be ahead over the season’s final week. The Caps may not need to win out, but they know they might have to do so. And they know they need to use Tuesday’s win as a springboard to more.

“We’re all buying in,” says Strome. “Anytime at the [trade] deadline when you don’t bring in any new guys – and we traded [three] guys away, guys that meant a lot to us – we just kind of bonded together as a group, and we’ve been playing a lot better hockey as of the trade deadline.

“Everyone is chipping in, whether it’s guys that have played 1,500 games or guys that have played 100 games or less. [Rookie defenseman] Vinny [Iorio] played great today. A lot of dump-ins went to his side, and he made some really poised plays with the puck.

“It’s a big win. We’ve got to keep it going. It means nothing if we lose the next couple.”