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Capitals beat Sabres in OT to claim a small lead atop the Eastern Conference

Mike Knuble, Alex Ovechkin

Washington Capitals’ Mike Knuble (22) celebrates with teammate Alex Ovechkin, left, of Russia, after scoring a goal against Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 31, 2011, in Washington. ( AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)


Even with some key defensemen out with injuries, the Washington Capitals are clearly peaking at the right time. In fact, after some ups and downs during a transitional 2010-11 season, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals now find themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference.

For at least one night, that is.

Ovechkin provided a jubilant victory dance after he shot the overtime game-winner through Buffalo Sabres backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, who might have to turn around and play again tomorrow in a big game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Washington 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

It looked like this game might be ugly, as the Capitals raced to an early 2-0 lead before the five minute mark. Yet the Sabres showed another sign of their consistent resilience this season, as Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford tied it up within five more minutes. That’s how the first period would end.

After a score-less middle frame, Paul Gaustad gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead and then the two teams’ power play units took over. Mike Knuble tied it up on a Washington PP, Stafford scored his second goal of the night on a Buffalo man advantage and then Jason Arnott sent it into overtime on the power play as well. Ovechkin then sent a shot that bounced off of two Buffalo players, then into the Sabres’ net to earn Washington what could be a key extra point. Both Knuble and Stafford produced two-goal games for their respective teams.

This gives Ovechkin “only” 30 goals on the season, as the flashy Russian’s numbers took a bit of a dive but his joy for the game never left. He’s been looking more and more like the Ovechkin of previous, all-world seasons lately, so it makes sense that the Capitals are back on their familiar perch atop the East.

We’ll give you the rundown of how this contest - and plenty of other Saturday games - will affect the Eastern Conference playoff picture in the next post.