- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

After being out of action for two and a half weeks, the Capitals didn’t get much of a break in opening the post-Olympic break part of their schedule against Ryan Miller and the Sabres.

Miller, who was named MVP of the Olympic tournament for his play that got the United States to within one goal of the gold medal, did not play in Buffalo’s loss in Pittsburgh Tuesday, but returned to action against Washington Wednesday night at HSBC Arena and was almost as good as he was in Vancouver wearing the U.S. colors.

The Capitals took a while to warm up after their long layoff, but played much better as the game progressed after a sloppy start, outshooting the Sabres by a wide margin in the second period, and just getting enough pucks past the netminder to earn a 3-1 win to break a three-game losing streak.

Mike Green’s goal with 9:32 left in regulation was the difference in a defensive battle where Miller and Capitals netminder Jose Theodore were solid, and now the Caps push their NHL-best point total to 92 with at least one point in 17 of their last 18 games (15-1-2).

Miller ended the night with 37 saves, while Theodore ended the night with 23 of his own, with some great stops late to preserve the Washington win.

“When you play against a guy like Miller, you know he’s not going to give up too many goals,” Theodore told the Associated Press after the game. “It was a real tight hockey game, and I’m really happy with the way we got the win.”

Despite a busy day of trading in which the Capitals added Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, Milan Jurcina and Scott Walker to their roster in four seperate deals, none of the new Caps were available to play against the Sabres.

The Caps started out the night showing some rust, taking two penalties in the first 186 seconds and yielding a brief 5-on-3 advantage to Buffalo, but Theodore kept the Sabres off the scoreboard.

Washington began to show more cohesion as the period progressed, and got two power-plays of their own in the frame’s last seven minutes, but couldn’t get a puck past Miller to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes.

Mike Knuble had the best chance to get Washington on the board early in the second period, breaking in alone on Miller and just missing the far post with just over four minutes gone in the second period. Alex Ovechkin had his first good chance just before the halfway mark, breaking in and firing on Miller, who was up to the task,

The Capitals did get the better of play in the middle period, outshooting Buffalo and getting some good scoring chances on Miller. They finally lit the lamp with 4:37 left in the period when Jeff Schultz’s blast was tipped by Eric Fehr and then again by Jason Chimera into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead.

It was a short-lived advantage, however, as exactly a minute later, Jochen Hecht picked up an errant puck off Mike Green’s skate and fired it past Theodore to even up the game.

Although Washington outshot Buffalo 15-4 in the middle frame, the two teams ended the period by splitting a pair of goals, as Miller kept his team in the contest with some good stops.

Washington narrowly retook the period with under 12 minutes left in regulation, as Brendan Morrison’s drive beat Miller, but rang off the far post to keep the teams deadlocked at one.

But Green was able to finally help Washington retake the lead with 9:32 to play, cutting in deep and snapping a shot past Miller to give the defenseman - who was left off the Canadian Olympic roster - his 15th tally of the season.

Theodore helped that lead hold up, making several sparking stops in the game’s closing minutes, stopping good chances by Tim Kennedy and Drew Stafford.

“He makes the saves, and that’s what wins you the big games,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau told AP of Theodore. “That’s what Miller does for them, and that’s what we got from Jose.”

The Sabres pulled the netminder with 1:40 left to try and get the equalizer, but the Caps kept the pressure on, and Boyd Gordon got a very long empty-net goal, shooting the puck from behind his own net, off the side boards, and into the empty net with :40.3 left in the contest.

The Capitals return home Thursday for their first game at Verizon Center in nearly a month to face the Lightning, as Washington closes in on its third straight Southeast Division title by opening up a five-game homestand. The Caps also are expected to have three of their new players available for that contest as well, with only Jurcina expected to miss the contest with what is reported to be a sports hernia.

Washington has not yet lost a home game in 2010, having last tasted defeat in Chinatown back on Dec. 28th, 2009 for an 11-game winning streak at home.

One Tampa Bay player that won’t be suiting up for the visitors is former Capitals captain Jeff Halpern, who was dealt to Los Angeles Wednesday.

But the Capitals got the last 20-game stretch of the regular season on the right note, and looking to boost their playoff standing as the season winds down into the final month.