The Washington Times - April 2, 2011, 09:48PM

So what if the Capitals have been down to five defensemen in each of the past five games. They still keep playing extra hockey.

They did so again Saturday night, going to overtime against the Buffalo Sabres before beating them 5-4 on an Alex Ovechkin goal to move into first place in the Eastern Conference.


“It was a playoff kind of atmosphere and they’re righting to get in. it’s a potential matchup for us, and they got a good hockey team and they came out hard,” center Boyd Gordon said. “We just found a way to battle back tonight.”

That spot may be short-lived, as the Flyers play Sunday afternoon, but the Caps will go to sleep tonight with sole possession of the first seed for the first time since Dec. 3.

Nicklas Backstrom wasn’t aware he and his teammates reached the top spot with the win, but he was happy to hear about it.

“It’s always good. You wanna be as high up as you can in the standings and work from there,” Backstrom said. “You wanna have the home advantage as long as you can in the playoffs.”

The Caps have the playoffs on their minds with a week remaining in the regular season. It was the ideal prep for that kind of hockey, too.

“It was a hard-fought game, it was a close game; it was intense,” said defenseman Sean Collins, who made his season debut Saturday. “You could tell that they really wanted it and we really wanted it. That’s how it is in the playoffs. So I think it was definitely a good test and good preparation.”

It all ended with Ovechkin skating around Sabres defenders and banking the puck in off Andrej Sekera’s skate and past rookie goalie Jhonas Enroth. In fact, several of the goals went in off weird deflections or bounces, but it’s not an excuse for either team.

“Games like this happen,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Three of the goals we put in our own net. I thought we did a real good job of coming back and not hanging our heads and saying ‘Oh well, let’s wait till tomorrow.’ ”

Instead, the Caps thrilled their fans while at times frustrating their coach; Washington and Buffalo combined for four goals in the final eight minutes of the third period before Ovechkin’s goal led to a wild celebration in the offensive zone 3:19 into overtime.

“You can say what you want about the quality of the game at times, but it was fun,” said winger Mike Knuble, who scored twice. “It was a fun one for the players and both teams couldn’t hold each other back. They are going to happen like that every once in a while and it was fun. Of course we would like to tighten up a bit, but I thought it was a fun hockey game.”

There are lessons to be learned about holding onto leads and composure late in games. But that’s exactly what this time of year is for.

“The game was getting tighter,” Backstrom said. “These kinds of games are gonna happen; it’s 2-2 before the third period. It’s a good thing we came back and won in overtime there.”