The Washington Capitals found themselves in a familiar place Saturday night -- atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Alex Ovechkin scored 3:19 into overtime and the Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 at the Verizon Center to take over the top spot in the East. The victory gave the Capitals 103 points, one more than idle Philadelphia. Washington has three games left; the Flyers have four, including a Sunday home game against the New York Rangers.
Ovechkin took a shot from the left circle that glanced off the skate of Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera and slid past goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Ovechkin celebrated by lifting his left leg high off the ice before staging an impromptu dance near center ice.
"I just made it up. I was excited," Ovechkin said of his celebration. "It's always nice when you score the overtime goal."
Twice in the final nine minutes of regulation, the Sabres took a one-goal lead -- but on each occasion, Washington scored the tying goal with the extra man.
Paul Gaustad put Buffalo up 3-2 at 12:35, and Mike Knuble answered with his second goal of the game at 14:18. Then, after Drew Stafford received credit for a goal that Washington defenseman John Carlson accidentally kicked into the net, Jason Arnott tied it, scoring his 400th career goal on a backhander with 51.3 seconds left.
"It was a fun one for the players. Both teams couldn't hold each other back," Knuble said.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't nearly as pleased with the back-and-forth pace, which he said resembled the run-and-gun Capitals of last season.
"I thought it was way too close to looking like last year," he said. "We sort of have to buckle down."
Before the Capitals' late surge with the extra man, Buffalo had been successful on 36 of its previous 37 penalty kills.
Despite the loss, the seventh-place Sabres got a point and now have 88. Buffalo trails Montreal by three points and moved one ahead of the New York Rangers.
Buffalo was without goaltender Ryan Miller, who did not make the trip because of an upper-body injury. Miller, who won the Vezina Trophy last season, played in 64 of the Sabres' first 77 games. He was replaced by Enroth, who gave up two soft goals early in the game but finished with 30 saves.
Referee Bill McCreary was honored on the ice before officiating his final NHL regular season game. He made his debut in November 1984, when the Capitals hosted New Jersey.
"It was a real honor to finish here, and I think it was a pretty entertaining game in the end for everyone," McCreary said. "Give the players credit. It was their game."
This game was penalty-free until 7:59 of the third period, when Washington was called for having too many men on the ice.
The Capitals scored with only 37 seconds elapsed when Knuble batted in the rebound of a shot by Carlson to conclude a 2-on-1. Alexander Semin made it 2-0 at 4:41 with his 28th goal, an easy tip-in after Enroth let a shot by Nicklas Backstrom get behind him in the crease.
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff immediately used his timeout, and it enabled Enroth and the Sabres to settle down. Thomas Vanek scored his 200th career goal at 6:30 of the period and Stafford tied it three minutes later.
"We didn't get the start we wanted, but I thought after that we worked hard, battled hard and got back in the game," Ruff said. "Once we got by that (opening) segment of hockey, we were good again."
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report