WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals entered the third period Wednesday night with key players injured, missing good scoring chances and trailing by a goal.
Then Alex Ovechkin scored twice during a four-goal rally and the Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 to extend their winning streak to nine games and overtake the Dallas Stars for the NHL points lead.
"Tonight, you saw some backbone when it was needed," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "It (was) an opportunity for guys to step up and they did. There wasn't any excuses."
The four-goal third period came after the team lost forward Jay Beagle to an upper-body injury and centre Nicklas Backstrom to an unspecific injury in the second period. Beagle will undergo surgery and miss significant time. Backstrom's injury was not disclosed and he could play Thursday at the Carolina Hurricanes.
Washington already was playing without top defenceman John Carlson, out with a lower-body injury.
Despite that, the Capitals turned around Buffalo's 2-1 lead quickly.
"We are pretty relentless as a team," Washington goalie Braden Holtby said. "(Obviously, the injuries) makes it tougher. Those guys play a huge role on our team but we are just going to have to find different ways to win if they are out. "
Trotz shifted Marcus Johansson from left wing to centre and moved Evgeny Kuznetsov to centre on the top line. Those adjustments paid off when Kuznetsov set up Ovechkin's tying goal 1:24 into the third with a perfect pass, then fed Johansson for a re-direct during a power play.
That goal put Washington ahead 8:32 into the final period, and Andre Burakovsky scored 1:24 later. Kuznetsov had two assists during the third period, which also saw Ovechkin add an empty-netter. Justin Williams had the Capitals' other goal, in the second.
The Capitals improved to 28-6-2 and moved ahead of Dallas with 58 points.
Holtby finished with 25 saves and improved to 16-0-1 in his last 17 games. He has not lost in regulation since Nov. 10.
Brian Gionta and Zemgus Girgensons scored for Buffalo.
This was the second part of a home-and-home series between the two teams. Washington won 2-0 in Buffalo on Monday night.
Gionta's first-period goal gave the Sabres an early lead, and goalie Chad Johnson helped Buffalo hold it until late in the second period despite heavy pressure from the Capitals.
Williams finally broke through with 5:52 left in the second. Johnson went behind his net to corral a loose puck and quickly tried to flip it away along the boards to teammate Zach Bogosian. Williams jumped in front, though, and picked it off. He quickly shot into the empty net to tie it.
The Sabres answered when Girgensons knocked in a loose puck from in front with 1:07 left in the period. Washington then tied the game early in the third and took the lead for good with its next goal, which Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma felt proved crucial.
"I think we sagged after the power-play goal," Bylsma said. "That was the difference in the game, really."
NOTES: Carlson missed his second straight game due to a lower-body injury after playing in 412 in a row. That was the second-longest run in Washington franchise history (behind Bob Carpenter's 422). He'll sit again against Carolina and could miss more time beyond that. ... C Michael Latta (arm injury) was out for this game but could return vs. Carolina. ... Trotz said they'll likely keep recently called up C Zach Sill with the team and add another defenceman from Hershey. ... Gionta's first-period goal ended an eight-game scoreless streak. ... Sabres assistant coach Terry Murray is a former Capitals player and head coach.