Washington Capitals Fall to Buffalo Sabres, 5-4, But Clinch Southeast Division Title With Point for Overtime Loss

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 4, 2009

It wasn't how the Washington Capitals had envisioned capturing their second straight Southeast Division title. But last night's miscue-riddled effort against the Buffalo Sabres was good enough to get it done anyway.

But just barely.

The Capitals blew three one-goal leads, then settled for a 5-4 overtime loss after Jason Pominville capitalized on a turnover in the extra session to cap a bittersweet night at Verizon Center.

"We figured we were going to win the division [because] we didn't think we were going to lose five in a row," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But we've got to get smarter to be able to play better. We had guys staying out late, a cross-ice pass in overtime with no defensemen on the ice. That's just not a smart play."

Boudreau was referring to the play that led to the Sabres' winner. Sergei Fedorov had skated the puck out of the Capitals' zone, but when a Buffalo player pinched down on him, he elected to make a risky, backhanded pass instead of banking the puck safely off the boards. The puck was intercepted by Tim Connolly, and the slick-stickhandling center quickly fed it to Pominville, who beat rookie Simeon Varlamov 1 minute 51 seconds into extra time.

Fedorov's night mirrored his team's -- it was uneven in every sense of the word. The 39-year-old scored twice, but he was in the penalty box for the Sabres' third goal before committing the turnover in overtime.

"I just passed across, and [Connolly] read it, and he made his play and [Pominville] put it in. That was about it," Fedorov said of the mistake.

The loss also cost the Capitals a point in the race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The New Jersey Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4, in overtime to pull within two points of the Capitals. Both teams have four games remaining.

The Sabres, meantime, moved within four points of the eighth and final spot in the East. And they have Ryan Miller, Maxim Afinogenov and Pominville to thank for earning both points.

The Capitals' power play struck three times in the opening 24 minutes and moved into the league lead in effectiveness (25.6 percent), surpassing the Detroit Red Wings' unit.

But the Sabres pulled even with 9:39 remaining on a goal by Afinogenov, who corralled a deflected puck between the circles and fired it over Varlamov. The rookie goaltender wasn't as sharp in his fourth NHL start and suffered his first loss, falling to 3-0-1 after watching three Sabres goals deflect in off his teammates.

"They were tough goals," Boudreau said of Varlamov's play. "They were redirect goals. Only the last one, I thought, was there much he could have done about it."

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