Sabres 3, Capitals 2

The Buffalo Sabres did all they could in the third period yesterday to hand the weary Washington Capitals a victory. But the home team refused to accept.

The Capitals came up empty on a pair of power plays in the final seven minutes, and instead allowed a short-handed goal, then gasped as Alex Ovechkin and Matt Bradley each rang shots off the post while the clock wound down in their 3-2 loss yesterday at MCI Center.

"It wasn't our best game," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said. "Olie [Kolzig] gave us a chance to win. We had two power plays in the final minutes, and we give up a goal. When that happens you don't deserve to win."

The defeat gave the Capitals their longest losing streak of the season at four (two of the losses were in shootouts) and it came less than 17 hours after dropping a 3-2 decision at Madison Square Garden in a shootout. The 15 rounds marked the longest shootout in the NHL this season.

Although the Capitals didn't use the short turnaround as a crutch, the coach and at least one player said the scheduling quirk was unfair.

"The one thing I'm extremely happy with is that when you play a National Hockey League game 17 hours after the last game -- I don't think that's right -- but we didn't even talk about it and we didn't use it as an excuse," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "At the end, we were still working hard."

Late in the third period, with the Sabres clinging to the 2-1 lead they had held since the final minute of the second, the Capitals ramped up the pressure on Martin Biron.

It appeared Washington's last chance would come on its seventh power-play opportunity of the game. But a defensive breakdown at the blueline led to an odd-man rush that was finished off by Jochen Hecht, who backhanded a shot over Kolzig for a short-handed goal to put Buffalo ahead 3-1 with 3 minutes 37 seconds remaining.

Capitals left wing Matt Pettinger, though, banged in a rebound with 1:59 left to make the score 3-2.

Then things got really interesting. The Capitals had at least three quality chances from close range in the final seconds, but Ovechkin's shot from Biron's doorstep glanced off the crossbar and Bradley's shot from the slot rang off the post to the dismay of the announced crowd of 11,658. Ovechkin went without a goal for the fifth consecutive game, extending his longest drought of the season.

"Biron probably made five good saves at the end," defenseman Jamie Heward said. "Two I don't think he saw. We just hit him, but we threw everything that we could at him."

Biron said: "They really came on strong in the last five minutes of the game. We got a little lucky in the last minute. I think they might have hit three posts or a crossbar. They were crashing the net and the puck was bouncing all over everywhere."

Biron's best save came in the second period, when he slid across the ice, stacked his pads and reached up to just get enough of a shot headed for the corner. The Capitals' shooter was his younger brother, defenseman Mathieu Biron, who had been a healthy scratch the previous nine games. The Sabres' goalie faced 19 shots; Kolzig, at the other end, made 26 saves.

"Fortunately enough, I got a piece of it," Martin Biron said.

In the first period, the Capitals, at times, looked sluggish in logging only three shots on goal. It marked the 12th time this season the Caps recorded four or fewer shots in a period.

"We're a young team," Bradley said. "We should be able to play three, four games in a row and it shouldn't affect us. I don't think that was an excuse."

Halpern, however, felt differently about playing back-to-back games in two cities without a full day between.

"That's probably the stupidest thing I ever heard of," Halpern said. "I felt fine. Guys said they felt fine. But there was no need for it."

The Sabres, meantime, had 10 shots in the opening 20 minutes, and one of them went in. Rookie Jason Pominville, skating in just his third NHL game, one-timed a cross-ice pass from Maxim Afinogenov on the power play to put Buffalo ahead 1-0 at 3:56.

Capitals defenseman Steve Eminger got the equalizer about five minutes into the second period, recording his first career power-play goal to tie the game at 1.

Another Sabres rookie, Tomas Vanek, restored Buffalo's lead to 2-1 with 49 seconds remaining in the second. His goal was also set up by Afinogenov. It stayed that way until the final minutes of the third period.

"We had some pressure at the end, but we shouldn't have been in that situation," Bradley said. "We had a couple of lapses. We should have won that game."

Capitals Note: Goalie coach Dave Prior fainted in the press box near the end of the second period, but was later seen walking around and was pronounced fine by a team spokesman. He is scheduled to be examined by doctors today.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin, left, could have tied the score in the third period, but his shot gets past Buffalo goalie Martin Biron, hits the post and bounces away. Jochen Hecht, right, sends a backhanded shot past Washington goalie Olie Kolzig. Hecht's short-handed goal put Buffalo ahead 3-1 in the third period.