Like children ripping apart wrapping paper on their gifts Christmas morning, the Sabres shredded the Capitals defense in the first period and settled the team's vendetta for Alex Ovechkin's hit on Daniel Briere with a 6-3 thumping at the HSBC Arena on Tuesday night.
"The effort that we put into this game is a sign of how much respect we have for our captain, Danny Briere," said enforcer Andrew Peters, who finished the game a goal shy of a Western League hat trick. "We know what happened in Washington and we proved tonight that shouldn't have happened."
It was Washington that opened the game with a three-goal burst and held a minimum two-goal lead throughout on their way to a 6-4 victory in the MCI Center on December 2. Little mistakes held Buffalo from a comeback in that contest, and it was doing those same little things correctly that led Buffalo's six goal lead in the rematch.
"We were moving our feet, finishing our checks and working away from the puck," said co-captain Chris Drury, who tied his career-high with four points. "It's the little things that get us going.
"We were just concerned about getting back at their team in general. We were extremely motivated. Lindy reminded us all day how they took it too us down there. He would let us forget it."
Drury scored a pair, while Maxim Afinogenov, Brian Campbell, Ales Kotalik and Thomas Vanek
added individual tallies on Buffalo's first eight shots on net.
Sometimes the best defense is a solid offense. As the Sabres attack cut apart Washington's blueline, league-leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin was left searching for offensive chances. Ovechkin registered just one shot in the opening period during the blitzkrieg before finding a shooting lane in the second for his 25th goal of the season.
Booed by the Buffalo faithful every instance he touched the puck, Ovechkin raised his glove to his ear following the score.
"Would have liked to not let [Ovechkin] score, but he made a nice shot," said netminder Ryan Miller
, who finished with 23 saves. "But it's hard to be mad at the kid. He just loves the game so much. It was a dumb hit and it was stupid, but the league didn't see anything wrong with it and we can't go around policing the league. We have to worry about playing hockey."
"I've got no issues with him," said Ruff. "I still don't like the hit, but you've got to like the way he plays. As a fan, you like watching him."
Considered one of the faces of the league, Ovechkin's bravado when his team was down by four goals was smiled at by the Sabres following the game.
"He's a proud kid and the fans had been on him all night," said Miller. "He had to say something back and that's the only way he can do it.
"The league needs a little of that [attitude]. You've got a kid that is emotional out there and he just wants to cut loose."
"That kid has a lot of jam, I tell ya," laughed Ruff when ask about the post-score celebration. "I don't mind him. He plays with fire and he has a lot of emotion."
Buffalo took over the first period with six goals in the first 10 minutes of play off the team's first eight shots on goal.
Campbell records his fifth goal of the season after he received the puck at Washington's blueline, skated through the slot and snapped a wristshot over Brent Johnson's left shoulder for Buffalo first goal of the game at 1:51. The goal gave Campbell four points (1+3) in his last five games.
Drury netted consecutive goals, one off a fluke bounce and the other with a quick one-timer in front, to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead. Peters recorded his first career assist and his first point of the season with the secondary helper on Drury's second goal.
Kotalik fired a blistering slapshot just inside the left post off a Drury feed to make the score 4-0 at 7:30. The tally gave Kotalik six points (4+2) in his last five games and chased Johnson from the net.
On Buffalo's first power play of the night, Briere slid an across-ice pass to Afinogenov for the one-timer from the right boards and the Russian's 17th of the season at 9:50.
Vanek completed Buffalo's half dozen at the 10:57 mark of the opening frame after his wristshot from above the right face-off circle hit Washington defenseman Brian Pothier and slipped by Olaf Kolzig.
Kris Beech collected a misplayed puck by Miller and fired past the out-of-position netminder to record Washington's lone score at 18:30.
Ovechkin netted his 25th goal of the season with a blistering wristshot into the top-right corner of the net on a two-on-one break at 14:36.
Chris Clark stripped Campbell at the Sabres blueline and beat Miller on the subsequent breakaway to cut Buffalo's lead to three goals at 3:19 of the second.
"We did a great job of just letting our hockey speak tonight," said Miller.
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