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Sabres cruise past Caps; Hecht, Boyes make impact in return

It was just three minutes in Monday when the Sabres prompted their fans to start a goal countdown. After only 11 minutes, Buffalo had Washington scrambling for its backup goaltender. By the time the first period was over, so was the game.

The Sabres' losing streak is history, too.

Buffalo skated to a 4-0 lead in less than 15 minutes, then hit cruise control to give the First Niagara Center crowd an easy 4-2 win to celebrate. The Sabres won the opening game after the Christmas break for the first time since beating the Capitals in 2006.

"We wanted to come out after the break here and really get things going, play the way that we really know we can," defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "We're getting some guys back. It's time to get going. We've dropped in the standings enough. We're playing teams that are ahead of us, and you've got to win."

The Capitals, it seems, are an ideal tonic for the Sabres. Buffalo beat the Caps to end a three-game slump for the second time this season, matching a feat first accomplished Nov. 26. The Sabres moved to 2-4-1 in their last seven and improved to 7-10-3 in the last 20.

They hope to better those numbers by getting healthier. Forwards Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes returned with assists, a welcome treat for a team that had consistently been losing players.

"It was a great team effort," Sabres forward Matt Ellis said. "It was real well-balanced. Ten guys ended up on the score sheet. [Brayden McNabb] gets his first NHL goal, which gives you that excitement because everyone remembers what it was like to score their first one. Those are the things you need to build on. You need to take that positive energy and move it forward."

The Sabres' first step forward came just 51 seconds in. The team's power play, which is connecting after an extended drought, put the team ahead in the opening minute. Wide-open captain Jason Pominville buried a pass from driving Drew Stafford.

Only three minutes had elapsed when the Sabres opened a 2-0 lead. The Caps' Matt Hendricks won a faceoff in his zone, but Ellis stole the puck from defenseman Karl Alzner. The Sabres' winger put a backhand off the far post for his second of the season.

The Sabres chased goalie Michal Neuvirth midway though the first, scoring for the third time on their sixth shot.

"It's a snowball effect," Pominville said. "It gets everybody going. It gets the fans going. It gets us going. It was fun to see everybody working together as a team. That's why we had success."

Christian Ehrhoff ended a 13-game scoring skid to give the Sabres' their 3-0 lead. Neuvirth turned his job over to Tomas Vokoun.

The Sabres extended their lead the first time they tested the new goalie. Boyes, back after missing 13 games with an ankle injury, skated around two Capitals in the corner of the Washington zone, held off a third defender and passed to McNabb. The rookie defenseman shot through traffic, beating Vokoun on the glove side for his first NHL goal.

The power-play goal was the Sabres' seventh in their last five games. They were in a 2-for-31 drought prior to the hot streak.

"Our power play did a great job," Regehr said. "You get a good offensive chance, you want to make sure you capitalize on that. We did that. We generated momentum with our power play right off the bat and continued to roll."

Hendricks tipped a shot through the legs of Ryan Miller with 17 seconds left in the second period. Washington star Alex Ovechkin, booed every time he touched the puck and thrown into the boards by Regehr during the hit of the game, gained a small measure of payback, scoring with 10:09 left.

By then, the Sabres were free to focus on Wednesday's visit to New Jersey. They'll try to create their first winning streak since Nov. 11.

"It was a nice way to start," Ellis said. "It's something for us to build on."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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Sabres 4, Capitals 2

SLAP SHOTS: Sabres end three-game losing streak with convincing victory over Capitals. ... Buffalo chases Neuvirth after just 11:15 as part of four-goal first period. ... McNabb scores his first NHL goal in 12th game.

FAST FACT: The Sabres had not won the first game following the Christmas break since beating Washington, 6-3, in 2006.

NEXT: New Jersey Devils, 7 p.m. Wednesday, in Prudential Center.