WASHINGTON — The Capitals trailed by deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 during Wednesday’s contest against the Buffalo Sabres. With long playoff odds and a daunting schedule down the stretch, there were plenty of excuses the Capitals could have made not to fight back into the game.
Rallying behind their captain Alex Ovechkin, who was a game-time decision not cleared until the early evening, they found a way to get two points out of it by forcing overtime with 68 seconds left in regulation before winning in a shootout for a 5-4 final. Ovechkin missed the Capitals’ 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday with a lower-body injury but wasn’t going to sit out two in a row.
“It was in question this morning,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “With Alex, if there's a chance he can play, he's going to play. We needed him out there. I thought under the circumstances of him and what he dealt with yesterday, last night, and this morning getting ready, to jump into that game, I thought he gave us what he had.”
The Capitals and Sabres were tied with 71 points in the standings heading into the game, each trailing the New York Islanders by five points for the second Wild Card spot in the East. Ovechkin returned to the lineup and recorded two points, assisting T.J. Oshie on the Capitals’ first goal of the night and scoring their third goal on a tip-in midway through the third.
“It's always great to come back obviously,” Ovechkin said. “This time of the year, you don't want to miss any games, but sometimes you just can't.”
Ovechkin has missed just 53 games during his 18-year NHL career, a staggering feat for a player who averages over 20 minutes a night and plays such a physical style of hockey. The Capitals have missed him when he’s been out; they’re 0-6-0 without him this season and winless in their last nine games he’s been sidelined dating back to the 2021-22 campaign.
It’s no secret the Capitals are built around Ovechkin and his presence on the ice allows the team to implement its game plan. Washington converted both its power-play opportunities during regulation, the first of which was a direct result of the Sabres trying to protect against Ovechkin’s one-timer and leaving Dylan Strome open up front to create an opportunity.
“There’s nothing like having Ovi around in the room, on the power play,” Tom Wilson, who scored the game-tying goal in the third, said. “It kind of puts everyone where they need to be. He’s such a presence. When he’s not there you kinda feel it, for sure. So, he definitely brought some life, had some fresh legs today, he was flying around. So, definitely huge to have him back and obviously a huge goal so there’s no one like him around the league. There never has been.”