BUFFALO – On a night when the Buffalo Sabres' front office said they'd likely be sellers at the trade deadline, the current on-ice product blew a two-goal lead in the third period and gave up a point to a team they are looking up to in the standings.
Matt Hendricks and Alexander Ovechkin scored in the shootout to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the Sabres at First Niagara Center on Saturday.
Sabres forward Ville Leino scored twice and Jhonas Enroth made 35 saves in his sixth start of the season. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, appearing in his 600th NHL game, also scored for Buffalo.
"They're pros and they understand the time of the year that is and Wednesday is the deadline and what'll happen will happen," Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said. "They don't have control over that, so they've been pretty focused."
Ovechkin recorded his 17th goal of the season and Troy Brouwer scored shorthanded for Washington, while defenseman Mike Green scored with 39.2 seconds left to play in regulation to send the game to overtime. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby made 20 saves in the win.
"I thought tonight we kept pushing and we got rewarded for it," Ovechkin said.
Green's goal came about 12 minutes after he hit the post on a similar play. His shot from the point rang off the left goal post and out with about 13 minutes left, but with the goalie pulled and less than a minute to play, his rocket from about the same area hit the post, hit Enroth and found the back of the net to force the extra period.
"[It was] almost the exact same spot on the ice and shot," Green said. "The first one, I'd seen the whole way. It hit the post and went out and I just came back to the bench and said, ‘I wish it would have hit him in the back and went in.' And the second one did, so somebody was listening to me."
Leino scored his first two goals of the season after missing the first 27 games of the season with a hip injury he sustained in training camp. In eight games this season, he has six points. It was Leino's first goal since April 5, 2012, and his first two-goal game since March 2, 2012. Saturday was the first time he'd scored at home since Dec. 7, 2011.
His best offensive game of the season came following the team's game on Thursday in Florida, where he was benched for the final two periods after taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the first period.
Leino's mind, however, was on the missed opportunities and the blown lead in the game on Saturday.
"We just have to be extra smart and extra cool and win your battles, battles in those situations. It's happened too many times. That's the reason I've been thinking about it," Leino said. "It shouldn't happen. Good teams usually win those games and teams that have success usually end up winning those games. It's a big place for us to grow up."
The Sabres are now 4-4-5 in their last 13 games and are 0-1-2 in their last three. Rolston was at a loss for words when asked after the game about the team's inability to close out close games.
"Just keep working day by day, make it better," said Rolston, who is 7-6-5 since taking over behind the bench. Only three of those wins have come in regulation.
Prior to the game, the Sabres traded veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues for two picks in the 2013 NHL Draft. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said before the game that based on where the team is in the standings – 13th place in the Eastern Conference heading into the contest – more moves could be made before the trade deadline on Wednesday.
The Capitals have won four of their last five games and visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Even though the New York Rangers lost to the Flyers on Saturday to help Washington's playoff chances, the Capitals aren't scoreboard watching just yet.
"Our focus is on our games," Holtby said. "We'll let the other guys sort themselves out. We know if we win a certain amount of games, we're going to give ourselves a good opportunity to make it to the playoffs and that's our goal."
Buffalo got off to a quick start Saturday. Ehrhoff opened the scoring 3:01 into the game, when he skated down the left wing and fired a shot off the crossbar. The puck ricocheted back to Ehrhoff as he continued going to the net and he put it in past Holtby for his fourth goal of the season.
Ehrhoff has two goals and three assists in his last five games.
Leino scored his first goal of the season 1:19 into the second period to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead. Tyler Ennis accepted a pass from Leino in the Washington zone and put a shot on goal. Holtby kicked the puck back into the slot, where Leino buried the rebound.
Washington responded 1:02 later on the power play with a goal from Ovechkin. On the left wing, the Capitals' captain waited for a screen and then leaned into a wrist shot from 44 feet out to beat Enroth.
Leino scored his second goal on the power play with 9:44 to play in the second period. Marcus Foligno outworked Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy in front of the net and redirected a point shot from Tyler Myers through Holtby's legs. Leino was on the doorstep to tap it in.
Brouwer scored shorthanded to make it a one-goal game at 2:43 of the third period. From behind the net, Holtby whipped a Buffalo dump-in up along the left-wing glass and the puck squeaked through Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera at the point. Brouwer picked the puck up and skated in to beat Enroth on his short side.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he felt Brouwer's goal helped get the team going.
"Yeah, a little bit, and sometimes you need something good to happen to your team to remind you that, yeah, this is the way we're supposed to play and good things can happen to us because you get a little stagnant at times," Oates said. "But I like the fact that even in the second period we were still pushing pretty hard. We had a lot of good chances against that goalie, he played very well, and we just had to wait. We had to wait our turn."
The goal was equally deflating for the Sabres.
"They got some momentum out of that and it's disappointing," Leino said. "That's a big goal to give. After that, they were pretty fired up and wanted to win the game. That's just a thing that shouldn't happen."