The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres engaged in one of the wildest, strangest games played at Verizon Center since it opened nine years ago as the Caps ended a four-game home losing streak to Buffalo.
The Caps jumped out to a three-goal first period lead and outplayed the Sabres the rest of the way for a 7-4 victory and a three-game winning streak.
En route, Washington lost the services of left wing Alex Ovechkin, who was ejected 4:52 into the second period after he checked Daniel Briere, the Sabres' standout forward, head-first into the boards, starting a scrum that resulted in three ejections and 79 minutes in penalties.
Briere lay on the ice for several minutes after the check before skating to the bench. The game was delayed for more than 15 minutes while officials, who later refused to discuss their rulings, decided what to do.
"I try to give some hit, but I was making speed. He just turned and I just hit him," Ovechkin said of his first NHL ejection, which will cost him at least a $100 fine. "I don't want to give him some injury. It was accident. ... I don't try to hurt."
While the referees refused to explain why Ovechkin was ejected and the rulebook still murky, the option of reviewing the incident for possible further discipline is open but at the moment appears unlikely. Ovechkin received major penalties for boarding and fighting and a game misconduct.
The rink was loud from the start with hundreds of Buffalo fans making the drive from the western New York city to watch the Sabres, one of the two best teams in the NHL this season. Even when down by three goals, chants of "Let's go, Buffalo" filled the arena, similar to the chants of "Let's go, Flyers" that filled the building in years past.
Richard Zednik and Bryan Muir scored 34 seconds apart early in the first. Ovechkin scored on an end-to-end rush 7:45 into the first and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was history. His replacement, Martin Biron, didn't fare much better and took the loss.
Matt Pettinger scored twice, while Ben Clymer and John Erskine also had goals for the Caps.
Washington entered the game with first-line center Dainius Zubrus out sick and finished night with Ovechkin and Zednik also out, with much of the team's offense on the bench. Zednik injured his groin 16 minutes into the second period. He is day-to-day.
"I don't know if I've been in a game where there were so many weird goals," said Olie Kolzig, who is in his 15th season. "The first and last ones, Clymer's goal, one of Pettinger's, Erskine's goal. But we played an unbelievable first period and that set us up for the whole game. Going in if someone had told us we would have a two-goal lead on this team, we would have been happy. So we kept playing. It was interesting but, hey, that team has come back against a lot of teams this year, but they couldn't do it against us."
In total, there were 28 penalties called worth 117 penalty minutes, but only one power-play goal resulted, scored by Buffalo with a two-man advantage.
Notes -- The Caps called up rookie defenseman Jeff Schultz from Hershey because defenseman Shaone Morrisonn had a stomach virus. But Morrisonn played; Schultz did not. ...
Zubrus (flu) and defenseman Jamie Heward (facial lacerations) were medical scratches. ...
Left wing Matt Bradley, who had trouble returning to the area from a family funeral near Ottawa, was also a scratch.