The Buffalo Sabres are on a winning streak.
The Sabres won their second in a row Friday night, defeating the Washington Capitals, 4-1, at the USAir Arena. It's the first time this season that Buffalo has put a pair of wins together.
"When you get into the hotel at 3 in the morning after a tough game, that's always a concern. We told the players they don't have to play until next Thursday and to dig deep," said Buffalo coach Ted Nolan, whose team was coming off a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh the previous night.
The Sabres used a formula that has served them well in the past few years -- let Dominik Hasek keep the game close, even if his team was being outshot, and hang around long enough to capitalize on the deciding break of the game.
In this case, the break came about five minutes into the third period. With the scored tied at 1-1, Washington's Joe Juneau handed the puck to Buffalo's Dixon Ward in the neutral zone. Ward got a good shot off from the right side of the slot. The puck was stopped by Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig, but the rebound came out directly in front of the net.
Michal Grosek scooped up the loose puck and found nothing but open space before him. He drilled in his first of the season at 5:02. The score was a fitting reward for the winger, who had gotten off to a poor start, but who played his best game of the season Friday.
"He's such a big, strong guy," said Ward of Grosek. "When he gets his legs going, he's tough to stop. This should be a great confidence booster for him. He has to feel good about his play."
Grosek returned the favor to Ward at 14:50 of the third period in setting up an insurance goal. They broke into the Washington zone on a two-on-one. Grosek made a nifty move around a sprawling Joe Reekie of the Capitals and fed Ward on right wing. Ward had no trouble getting his first of the season.
Derek Plante added an empty-netter with 21 seconds left.
"There's no question I'd rather have people talk about other teams' bad starts than ours," said Ward of winning back-to-back games. "We've only got seven games in. There's a long way to go."
Alexei Zhitnik had the other Buffalo goal, a short-handed score in the first period. Richard Zednik tied it for the Capitals in the second period.
Hasek faced 32 shots in the game, while the Sabres were held to 26 against Kolzig. The back-to-back wins couldn't have come at a better time for the Sabres, who had lost four of their first five going into the two games.
They may have been a little lucky to catch Pittsburgh (1-5) and Washington (now 1-4 with Friday's loss) at good times, but Buffalo certainly earned the wins in both cases.
The Sabres flew home immediately after the game. They will have a few days between starts, as their next game isn't until Thursday when the Montreal Canadiens come to town.
The first period finished with a 15-5 margin in shots for Washington. Six of those came from Peter Bondra, who ranks as one of the chief Buffalo-killers in the league. Coming in, he had 14 goals in 19 games against the Sabres.
The Sabres showed some life when Michael Peca, Randy Burridge and Jason Dawe forechecked furiously during a shift at the 10-minute mark, hemming the Caps in their zone.
Curtis Brown took Buffalo's first shot of the period at 11:27, and the ensuing pressure led to a Sabre power play.
However, Washington had the best chance of the two-man advantage for Buffalo.
Housley broke into the Sabre zone on a two-on-one. Zhitnik played it nicely, cutting off the passing lanes while preventing Housley from having a good angle on his shot on goal. Hasek made the save.
The Capitals had better luck on their power play about two minutes later, tying the game in the process. Jason Allison flipped the puck on goal. Hasek made the initial save, but couldn't control the rebound. Zednik outfought Anatoli Semenov for the puck in the slot, and redirected it into the net for his second of the season.
The Sabres brought up forward Barrie Moore from Rochester in case Brian Holzinger was unable to play. Holzinger had a stiff neck after a Thursday collision with Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr. However, Holzinger did play, and Moore was not in uniform. . . . Kolzig was playing in his first game of the season as he had been suffering from mononucleosis. The Capitals had been using Robb Stauber, an ex-Sabre, as a backup. Stauber was sent to the minors on Wednesday.