‘Exorcising some demons’

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BUFFALO, N.Y. | Chris Bourque has played only nine games in this league, but the wait for his first NHL goal seemed so much longer.

The Washington Capitals crafted a pair of pretty power-play goals, enjoyed Bourque’s momentous tally and received another strong night from goaltender Jose Theodore on Tuesday. The end result was a thorough beating of the Buffalo Sabres at a sold-out HSBC Arena - one the final margin of 4-2 didn’t accurately represent.

“Defensively yeah, just getting in their face and not giving them any opportunities - that’s about as good as we can get,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said.

The Caps have now won nine of 10 - and 13 of 17 since returning from a four-game road trip with a third of the roster on the injured list. With the victory, Washington expanded its lead over idle Carolina in the Southeast Division to 12 points.

It is also only the second time in franchise history that the team has at least 50 points before New Year’s Day.

Wins in this building have not come easy for the Caps in recent seasons. Washington had lost seven of the past eight games at HSBC Arena, and a few of them have been ugly. At the morning skate, Boudreau talked of “exorcising some demons” in this barn.

“[Coach Boudreau] said it was time to start something new,” goalie Jose Theodore said. “Even if I wasn’t here, this was a place that I haven’t won many games [he was 1-7 in 10 appearances before Tuesday]. … I think everybody played with confidence, and it was time to put everything aside and play the way we can.”

Added Boudreau: “It might have been a stupid saying, but it worked and I think we did it. I think we came out with the intention of doing that.”

Given the Caps recent troubles here, the first period couldn’t have been scripted any better. Brooks Laich put Washington in front with a rebound at the end of a beautifully executed power play. After spending more than a minute in the offensive zone, there was a tic-tac-toe passing display from Alex Ovechkin to Viktor Kozlov to Nicklas Backstrom.

Ryan Miller stopped Backstrom’s one-timer, but Laich had an easy tap-in to finish the play 1:57 into the contest. The goal was Laich’s 11th of the season and sixth in nine games.

Bourque made it a two-goal advantage at 9:02. It was another rebound tally, but it was also another chance generated thanks to some precision passing. Tyler Sloan started the rush below his own goal line with a pass to David Steckel, who executed a perfect give-and-go with Eric Fehr in the neutral zone.

That set up Steckel for a blast from the top of the circles, and the long rebound came right to Bourque, who banged it home. Bourque, another member of the 2004 draft class, which included Ovechkin, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, does have 69 goals in three-plus seasons with Hershey in the American Hockey League.

“It was really exciting. I didn’t really think it was happening when it happened - I kind of blacked out,” Bourque said. “It is my fourth year pro now, and I’ve been dreaming of this happening ever since I turned pro.”

Backstrom added the team’s second extra-man goal of the evening 12:11 into the second period. Miller turned aside Green’s shot from the right point, but it went to Kozlov inside the left circle. He held the puck for a second, freezing Miller, and then centered a pass to Backstrom, who made a nifty backhanded stop and forehand flip into the net for his 11th of the season.

Theodore continued his recent run of steady work. His shutout bid was ended when Adam Mair slipped behind the Caps defensemen and roofed a backhander past the goalie 7:41 into the final period, and Clarke MacArthur added another in the final seconds, but Theodore was again steady.

His best saves coming early in the third, Theodore has now stopped 93 of 98 shots (a .949 save percentage) since yielding a goal early in the second period at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 23.

The Caps’ injury situation didn’t get any better - the team was actually without two more guys (defenseman Karl Alzner was out with a hand bruise and forward Donald Brashear with a leg bruise) and a third (defenseman Shaone Morrisonn) left the game after taking a shot off his leg - but they continued to roll.

“We have the power up front to score many goals - we just had to tighten up a bit defensively and the goalies needed to make some big saves at the right time,” Theodore. “Everything came together at the right time.”

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