ARLINGTON, Va. – As the Washington Capitals began to establish themselves as Stanley Cup contenders several seasons ago, they did so with a penchant for late-game dramatics.
Since the 2008-09 season, no team has more wins when trailing in the third period than the Capitals' 49, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That trend has continued this season. Washington leads the NHL with nine such victories, the most recent coming Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Down 2-1 after Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel scored less than a minute into the third period, the Capitals rallied with goals from forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward to win 3-2, their second straight victory.
"Aside from a handful of games, we feel like we can win every single game," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "Doesn't matter if we're playing great or just okay, we always have that feeling where [Alex Ovechkin] can break out and score three goals or [Backstrom] can set up 10 guys. We have that feeling that we can win every game."
What was most important about Washington's win Friday was that it was the first of the nine that has come in regulation (two came in overtime and six via shootout). For a team struggling to win 60-minute games like the Capitals have this season, with only 12 in 44 games, that was certainly a bonus.
Of course, the Capitals would prefer not to have to orchestrate so many comebacks; Washington has trailed after two periods 19 times. At this point, when every point is precious (especially in a Metropolitan Division that is tightening by the day), the Capitals will take wins in any fashion.
"It is nice that we're coming back to win games, but we don't want to be in that position," Alzner said. "Luckily, we've found ways to answer.
"Obviously, you want to win the right way, and you want to be a team that's stingy and hard to play against. Sometimes we are, but all that really matters is winning the game. We'd like to win it the right way, but if we get two points, we can live with that."
The Capitals' opponent on Sunday afternoon, the Buffalo Sabres, will be bolstered by the returns of forwards Cody Hodgson and Ville Leino from injury.
Hodgson, Buffalo's leading scorer with 19 points, missed eight games with a left wrist/thumb injury, while Leino will play for the first time since Dec. 31 after recovering from a lower-body ailment.
Here are the projected lineups for both teams:
Matt Moulson – Tyler Ennis – Zemgus Girgensons
Matt D'Agostini - Cody Hodgson - Steve Ott
Linus Omark – Brian Flynn – Ville Leino
Marcus Foligno – Zenon Konopka – Matt Ellis
Christian Ehrhoff – Mark Pysyk
Brayden McNabb – Jamie McBain
Mike Weber – Alexander Sulzer
Scratched: John Scott, Tyler Myers (suspension)
Injured: Cody McCormick (upper body), Drew Stafford (upper body), Kevin Porter (leg), Henrik Tallinder (upper body)
Eric Fehr – Mikhail Grabovski – Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich – Nicklas Backstrom – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Marcus Johansson – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green
John Erskine – Connor Carrick
Scratched: Martin Erat, Steve Oleksy, Michal Neuvirth
Injured: Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau)