Until tonight, mention of Buffalo winger Steve Patrick brought only one response from fans of the Washington Capitals. It was Patrick whose check here at Memorial Auditorium two years ago ended the career of Yvon Labre.
Patrick, 6-foot-4 and 205, showed some other aspects of his game tonight. Entering the contest with 16 career NHL goals, he scored twice to lead the Sabres to a 3-2 victory that ended Washington's unbeaten streak on the road at 10 games.
The Sabres, in extending their undefeated streak to five, outskated the Capitals, held their own in frequent exchanges of solid hitting and got outstanding goaltending from rookie Jacques Cloutier.
Washington's Al Jensen was sharp, too, and the game became closer on the scoreboard than it was on the ice when Scott Stevens score on his own rebound with 2:13 remaining.
Until that point in the third period, the Capitals had managed only three shots and they did not get another. The Sabres kept up the pressure so effectively that Jensen never was able to leave the ice for a sixth skater.
Afterward, the teams faced an even more difficult task as they mushed to the airport through driving snow to board their respective charter flights for the trip to Baltimore and an 8 o'clock rematch Saturday at Capital Centre.
This was Buffalo's 30th triumph over Washington in 37 meetings. The Capitals have won only two and their only success here in the Aud came six years ago.
The Capitals led this one, for exactly 14 seconds. Ken Houston's goal at 8:23 of the first period, for his 300th NHL point, broke the scoreboard ice. Not long before, Cloutier had made an incredible glove save on Glen Currie after the puck deflected to Currie alone in the slot.
Patrick, set up in front by Lindy Ruff's pass from the left wing boards, pulled Buffalo even at 8:37.
The Capitals' power play, ineffective as usual, was victimized for the tie-breaking goal by Andre Savard at 13:40. The short-handed score left the extra-man unit at minus one in four attempts.
Timo Blomqvist, at the right point, held the puck a moment too long and Savard knocked it loose and into center ice. Play moved into the Washington end, where Brian Engblom received a Blomqvist pass behind the net at the same time Savard checked him. Savard grabbed the puck, skated around the net at Jensen's right and jammed it into the far corner.
Jensen made some outstanding saves to keep the score at 2-1, both before and during a second-period penalty to Washington's Chris Valentine for hooking.
Buffalo, pressing hard throughout the man advantage, continued to apply intense offensive pressure after Valentine returned and Patrick made it 3-1 on a second rebound of Gil Perreault's drive from the left point.
Washington's Greg Theberge sent a shot off a post during a power play late in the second period and it was the closest the Capitals came to reducing the deficit until Stevens, out of position in the right wing circle, found some daylight to his left and cut in front of the falling Cloutier before shooting. Somehow, Cloutier blocked it anyway, but he had no chance on the rebound.
Stevens had a superb night, easily outshining Buffalo's Phil Housley in a head-to-head clash of the NHL's best rookie defensemen. Stevens dealt some solid checks, moved into the crease with Jensen absent to block a shot by John Van Boxmeer and showed ability to move the puck.
Washington Coach Bryan Murray, upset with the defensive effort in Tuesday's 9-7 loss to Los Angeles, paired Rod Langway and Brian Engblom for much of the game, with Stevens and Blomqvist playing regularly.
Randy Holt, although seeing only about five minutes of action, drew 17 minutes in penalties. He cross checked Ric Seiling in the third period, exchanged punches with the Sabres winger and then was assessed a misconduct for complaining to referee Ron Fournier.