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Apr 10, 2024 5:12 pm

Capitals try to hold onto wild-card berth going into Buffalo

alex ovechkin

The Washington Capitals continue what they hope will be a sprint to the playoffs when they visit the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.

Washington (37-30-11, 85 points) holds the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins each have 84 points. All three teams have four games remaining and Detroit plays Pittsburgh on Thursday, guaranteeing one of them two points.

If Washington wins out, that leaves no doubt about the postseason. That would include wins over Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Boston and Philadelphia, no easy task for a team that just ended a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) and has scored 12 goals in its past seven games.

The Capitals ended their skid with a crucial 2-1 win over the host Red Wings on Tuesday. Alex Ovechkin and Dylan Strome scored, and Charlie Lindgren made 42 saves.

“We knew how important this game was,” Lindgren said. “Obviously, we’re coming off a few games in a row where we were on the wrong side of it and playing against a team right next to us in the standings. … I felt like it was a must-win situation.”

Ovechkin, who heated up after a slow first half of the season, scored his 30th goal for an NHL-record 18th season. He made it 2-0 with eight seconds left in the second period to pass Mike Gartner, who reached the 30-goal milestone in 17 of his 19 NHL seasons before retiring in 1998.

Ovechkin has 852 goals, 42 behind Wayne Gretzky for the most in NHL history.

“He finds a way to score,” Strome said. “When he sees a spot in the net, he’s going to put it home. Nice milestone, and yeah, I mean, we obviously needed the goal.”

On the same night the Capitals improved their playoff chances, the Sabres (37-37-5, 79 points) were officially eliminated from playoff contention when they lost at the Dallas Stars, 3-2.

“We have the same amount of wins, if not more, than certain teams ahead of us. Those teams were able to lock it down a little better defensively and force games into overtime and get that point,” Buffalo forward Alex Tuch said. “Every point matters, and if you wait until too late in the season to make your push, it’s going to catch up with you at the end, and it did this year.”

Tuch and Rasmus Dahlin scored, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 21 saves for Buffalo, which is 4-6 over its past 10 games when a 6-4 mark would have kept the team in the hunt. Now the Sabres will focus on the role of spoiler in their home finale.

“We’re a young team, that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore,” Dahlin said. “We are looking at ourselves in the mirror, and we have to be better. This is something we have to learn from this season and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Dahlin became the second defenseman in Sabres history to score at least 20 goals in a single season. He joins Phil Housley, who had five such seasons.

Tuch extended his point streak to four games (two goals and five assists).

Buffalo already dealt a blow to Washington’s playoff chances, beating the visiting Capitals 6-2 on April 2.

–Field Level Media

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