BUFFALO, N.Y. – Jose Theodore and the Washington Capitals finally had some fun in a city that usually frustrates them.
Theodore made 31 saves, and Nicklas Backstrom added a goal and assist to lead the surging Capitals to only their third win in the last 10 games in Buffalo, a 4-2 victory over the Sabres on Tuesday night.
“This was a place where I didn’t win a lot of games before,” said Theodore, unbeaten in four starts. “It wasn’t pretty. I think we had everybody play with a lot of confidence and put everything aside and play the way we can.”
Theodore won for only the second time in nine games in Buffalo.
Playing with confidence certainly hasn’t been a problem lately for the Capitals, who’ve won nine of 10 to move into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference with 51 points. Boston leads with 60.
“We’re focused on just trying to win every game,” Backstrom said. “We know we’re up there, so if we keep hunting them it’s going to be fun.”
Chris Bourque, the son of Hall of Fame defenceman Ray Bourque, netted his first NHL goal, and Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon also scored for the Capitals (24-11-3).
“It’s awesome that I got that first one,” said Bourque, who playing in his fifth game of the season and ninth in the NHL. “It was surreal.”
Washington won despite star winger Alex Ovechkin being held without a point for only the second time in 11 games. Ovechkin was denied on a short-handed breakaway in the second period by goalie Ryan Miller.
“He’s a terrific player, but he can’t score every game,” Backstrom said.
Theodore helped preserve the win with 14 saves in the third.
Adam Mair and Clarke MacArthur scored for Buffalo (17-15-5), which has lost four of five (1-2-2). Miller made 27 saves.
“It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating and hard to hide from,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “If Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy and those kinds of guys aren’t our best players, you don’t have any chance of winning. We’ll take them out of the lineup. Some of them will come out, and that’s not an idle threat, either. You still have to put the work in, and I don’t think we did.”
With Buffalo down 3-0 after two periods, Mair spoiled Theodore’s shutout bid at 7:41 of the third, lifting the puck over the goalie with a nifty backhand after a slick deke.
Laich opened the scoring with his 11th of the season just 1:57 into the game. Laich scored his third goal in two games by ramming in a rebound from the doorstep during a power play.
Bourque made it 2-0 at 9:02 when he converted a big rebound after Miller kicked out David Steckel’s slapshot from the top of the right circle.
“I was lucky with the rebound right on my stick,” Bourque said. “I wasn’t going to miss that one.”
Backstrom pushed the Capitals’ lead to three, scoring another power-play goal with 7:49 left in the second period. Standing in the slot, Backstrom notched his 11th by redirecting Viktor Kozlov’s pass from the left circle.
Gordon scored into an empty net while Washington was short-handed with 42.3 seconds left, and MacArthur made it 4-2 with 11 seconds to go with a power-play goal.
“At this stage of the season, where we’re sitting, we need good things to happen,” Miller said. “We have to get into games early, and start learning and adapting, myself included.”
Notes: The Sabres are 14-5 against Washington in the last 19 meetings. … Capitals forward Alexander Semin missed his fifth game because of back problems. LW Tomas Fleischmann sat out his third game due to an illness. … The Sabres activated C Paul Gaustad and C Nathan Gerbe from the injured list and had both players in the lineup. … Miller is 8-3 against the Capitals. … Laich has six goals in nine games.