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Capitals 7, Sabres 4 @NHLdotcom

WASHINGTON (AP) -Alex Ovechkin wasn't around to see the Washington Capitals finish off the Eastern Conference's best team, but his teammates used their superstar's absence as a rallying point.

Now the Capitals will wait to see if Ovechkin is further penalized for what the Buffalo Sabres thought was a cheap shot.

Richard Zednik and Bryan Muir scored 34 seconds apart during the Capitals' four-goal first period and Washington overcame Ovechkin's first career ejection in a 7-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

Ovechkin scored his team-high 17th goal before being tossed late in the second period.

Washington played the final 35:08 without Ovechkin, who was assessed a game misconduct for the first time in his two-year career after shoulder-checking Daniel Briere from behind into the boards near the Buffalo bench.

"He got turned around and I hit him," Ovechkin said, adding that he didn't think the infraction warrants a suspension. "I didn't want to give him some injury. It was an accident."

Matt Pettinger tallied twice, and Ben Clymer and John Erskine also scored for the Capitals, who have won a season-high three straight.

"It left a big hole in our lineup, even for a period and a half. ... We're going to have to play some nights without (Ovechkin), whether it's an injury or something like this," Pettinger said. "We showed tonight we can battle when that happens."

Derek Roy, Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford had goals for Buffalo, which lost for only the second time in 13 road games. The six goals allowed were a season high for the Sabres, who had a two-game winning streak snapped.

The Capitals scored three times in the first 7:45, sending goaltender Ryan Miller to the bench for Martin Biron. It was the third consecutive game in which Washington forced an opponent to switch goalies, an NHL first this season.

Zednik tallied on a breakaway at 2:01, pushing the puck past Miller's glove side, and Muir swept a shot from center-point 34 seconds later.

Ovechkin's goal made it 3-0. After stealing the puck from Maxim Afinogenov, Ovechkin kept it on a 2-on-2 break, scoring from the right wing.

Roy scored for Buffalo at 15:09 when sprawling goalie Olaf Kolzig failed to corral the puck with his gloved hand.

Less than a minute later, Clymer restored Washington's three-goal cushion. Clymer's shot from deep in the slot was chested by Biron, popped up in the air and then bounced behind him.

Early in the second, Ovechkin leveled Briere into the right-wing boards, drawing a five-minute boarding major and touching off a series of skirmishes. Paul Gaustad pummeled Ovechkin, who didn't throw a punch in retaliation.

"He was behind me - I couldn't see it. ... The puck was going deep and I was going for a (line) change," said Briere. "It was definitely late and from behind. It's tough to say whether he deserves a suspension."

Ovechkin drew an automatic $100 fine for the hit, which will be reviewed by the league office to determine if further action will be taken.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff believes Ovechkin deserves additional punishment.

"(Briere) was defenseless. He went headfirst into the boards," Ruff said. "I think if (Washington) looked at it through their eyes and it was Ovechkin going headfirst into the wall, I think they'd feel the same way. We don't need those plays in the game."

Ovechkin, Gaustad and Buffalo's Adam Mair were handed game misconducts, and 79 minutes in penalties were assessed following the fracas.

With the teams skating 4-on-4, Washington took a 5-1 lead at 7:24. Biron came out too far to play Brian Pothier's shot and Pettinger poked the puck into an empty net.

Afinogenov's apparent power-play goal at 9:18 was disallowed on video replay when it was ruled to have been kicked in. Just 28 seconds later, Afinogenov assisted on Drury's man-up goal from in front.

Vanek made it 5-3 with 28 seconds left in the second.

Pettinger's second goal put Washington up by three. Stafford got Buffalo within 6-4 with 7:46 left.

Erskine added a length-of-the-ice, empty-net goal with 56 seconds remaining.

Notes: Zednik left late in the second with a right leg injury. ... Washington recalled D Jeff Schultz from AHL Hershey, but he wasn't in the lineup. The Capitals also scratched D Jamie Heward (facial laceration) and RW Dainius Zubrus (illness). ... D Jaroslav Spacek (left leg) and C Jiri Novotny (upper body injury) didn't dress for Buffalo.

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