Desperation was in the air. It may not have had the electricity of a game between two top teams, but the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres have reached the point in the season where each loss can be debilitating for their playoff hopes.
The Caps took advantage of their final home game before a four-game road trip, beating the Sabres 5-3 on Sunday night at Verizon Center to cut their playoff deficit to just six points with 20 games to play.
“You look at the standings right now and it’s still close, top to bottom, of that playoff race,” winning goaltender Braden Holtby said. “You look at Buffalo and they’re in the same position we are. To get those points, it’s huge, but right now, we’ll treat every game like a playoff game. We have to win every one, or else we’re done, so that’s what we’re treating it like.”
Six back with 20 left is not insurmountable, and Washington passed Buffalo in the standings with this victory. But the Caps still have to pass a lot of teams and get some luck if there is to be hockey in the district beyond April 27.
“It’s pretty much must-win now till the end of the year,” said center Mathieu Perreault, who had a goal and an assist. “We know we got to start getting some wins if we want to get in the playoffs. Especially before getting on the road trip here it was nice to get a big win at home.”
Beating the Sabres was a matter of simply taking care of business, even though the Caps entered the game with fewer points. They took advantage of a shaky night by goaltender Ryan Miller and found some legitimate offense for the first time since hanging seven on the even more lowly Florida Panthers on March 7.
Alex Ovechkin and Troy scored, which is expected. Jason Chimera scored his first goal of the season, and Marcus Johansson and Perreault chipped in for good measure.
Ovechkin scoring 19 seconds in set the tone.
“I think it’s a different game when you start with the lead,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “I think the last three or four games the first 10 minutes it’s 2-0 for the other team and it’s hard to stick with your system and play from behind. I think to score that first goal gives you a chance to play with the lead, play smarter after that. You don’t have to cheat offensively; you can play your game plan and keep following it.”
Even if it wasn’t Holtby’s sharpest performance, it was enough to secure the victory, just the Caps’ second in the past six games.
“We need to win every day,” Ovechkin said.