WASHINGTON (AP)A little more than a minute away from their already slim playoff hopes fading a whole lot further, Tom Wilson scored arguably the biggest goal of the Washington Capitals’ season.
After making it through overtime, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie scored in the shootout to give Washington a 5-4 comeback victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night that may have saved the Capitals’ season.
“There was some desperation out there that you typically see in the postseason, some big goals out of our big guys,” said Oshie, who also scored in regulation. “Every game has to kind of be a playoff mentality for us, and there’s no time like playoffs when you’re down goals and able to fuel comebacks.”
It’s still a major uphill climb for Washington to make the playoffs after selling at the trade deadline and dealing with a growing list of injuries. But this win pushed the Capitals within five points of the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 12 games to play.
“When you look back at the game, you can see the urgency in our game and just the compete level and just the will – the will to win,” said goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who stopped Alex Tuch and Tage Thompson in the shootout after making 23 saves in regulation and overtime. “For us to come back and win the way we did, this might be the best-feeling win all year.”
It was only possible after Kuznetsov scored early in the third period and Alex Ovechkin cut the deficit to one with under 10 minutes left in regulation. Then Wilson’s scored a 6-on-4 goal with Lindgren pulled for an extra skater with 1:08 left on the clock.
It was Washington’s first tying or go-ahead goal in the final two minutes this season.
After getting Ovechkin back from missing the game Tuesday at the New York Rangers because of a lower-body injury, the Capitals lost defenseman Nick Jensen in the third period. Coach Peter Laviolette said there was no update on Jensen’s status.
The team got a scare late in the second when trade pickup Rasmus Sandin took a slap shot off his left knee and departed the game, before returning in the third.
“When he goes down and comes back it’s a good feeling for our team,” said Dylan Strome, who had two assists.
The feelings were mostly bad in the visiting locker room for the Sabres, who have lost seven of nine to hurt the chances of ending the franchise’s 11-season postseason drought, which is by far the longest in the NHL. But Buffalo’s playoff hopes are still alive after picking up a point, and it has extra games left to play compared to other teams in the race, including the Capitals.
“Down the stretch, every point matters, so it’s huge and everyone realizes this in the locker room,” Buffalo’s Tyson Jost said. “We care so much and want it and that’s good to see and we’ve just got to keep pushing and focus on the next game and keep putting together wins here.”
Still, the OT loss represented a missed opportunity after goals in regulation by Ilya Lyubushkin, JJ Peterka, Jost and Zemgus Girgensons and 35 saves in net by Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, who lost his stick in the corner before Wilson tied it on a goal Tuch blamed himself for allowing.
“We had the lead for the whole game and then a couple bad mistakes – mine in particular,” Tuch said. “It’s unacceptable. I’m not a rookie. I’ve been in this league a couple years now and I know time management. I felt like I let the team down.”
Sabres: Visit Philadelphia on Friday night.
Capitals: Host St. Louis on Friday night.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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