WASHINGTON -- Sam Reinhart came within inches of spoiling the Washington Capitals' night. His chip shot from the slot on a pass from Jack Eichel rang off the post during the final minute of regulation Saturday night at Capital One Arena.
Seconds later, Jeff Skinner nearly poked a puck between Pheonix Copley's pads. In the end, the Buffalo Sabres saw an emotional, exhilarating game end with a 4-3 shootout loss in the home of the defending Stanley Cup champions Saturday. Alex Ovechkin scored in the fourth round to clinch the Capitals' second such win in as many nights.
The Sabres, 19-9-5 with 43 points, proved again they can trade chances and saves with the NHL's best; however, the momentous performance in a playoff-like atmosphere was overshadowed by a player who chose not to join them for the two-game road trip.
Patrik Berglund, a 30-year-old forward acquired from St. Louis as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade in July, was suspended indefinitely by the team Saturday morning for "failure to report." It's unknown when or if Berglund will return, and it's unclear why he even left.
Attempts to reach Berglund's agent, Peter Wallen, by phone and email went unanswered.
"It’s obviously not easy," goalie Carter Hutton, a teammate of Berglund's last season in St. Louis, said. "It’s one of those things you need to move forward – injuries, suspensions. Those things happen, right? It’s something that comes with the business. For us, we need to keep plowing forward here. We’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us. We thickened our skin in a lot of ways in the first half here."
Berglund, who had two goals and two assists with a minus-5 rating in 23 games, missed five games because of injury last month and has twice been a healthy scratch. Acquired along with Vladimir Sobotoka, Tage Thompson and two draft picks, Berglund was supposed to provide versatility and leadership. He had three 20-goal seasons during his 10 years in St. Louis and played in 60 playoff games.
The Sabres responded well despite the suspension.
Jack Eichel, who had yet to deal with a teammate's suspension since he became captain, scored twice -- his 11th and 12th of the season -- and Rasmus Dahlin's power-play goal 7:21 into the second period gave the Sabres a one-goal lead over the Capitals, who improved to 20-9-3 with the win.
Ovechkin, Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana scored in regulation for Washington. Buffalo struggled with its five-on-five play for much of the two periods, as it was down to five defensemen after losing Nathan Beaulieu to an injury in the second period. Marco Scandella was playing for the first time in eight games, and Matt Tennyson was a minus-3 in his fourth game.
The Sabres responded with an outstanding third period and were backed by Hutton, who stopped Ovechkin's third-period shot from the slot and Evgeny Kuznetsov's breakaway in overtime. Casey Mittelstadt's goal in the third shootout round extended the game, but Ovechkin immediately answered by beating Hutton, who made 35 saves in regulation and overtime.
Now, the Sabres must handle the absence of a teammate while navigating a difficult schedule, which continues Sunday at 5 p.m. with a game in Boston against the Bruins.
"From my knowledge, talking to the medical staff, he was ill," Phil Housley said of Berglund Saturday before puck drop. "So we handled it that way. Obviously, it developed into something different. [General Manager Jason Botterill] and the management are handling that."
The saga began on Tuesday morning when Housley informed reporters Berglund was "sick" and would not play that night's game against the Los Angeles Kings. Berglund's tenure with the Sabres began with promise when Housley used him as the second-line center to start the season; however, Berglund was demoted to fourth line left wing and was scratched after failing to cover on a power-play goal allowed during a 4-1 loss to Vegas on Oct. 16.
Berglund, a first-round draft pick in 2006, is under contract for three more years with a $3.85 million annual cap hit, though the Sabres will receive financial relief while he's suspended.
Now, the Sabres have little depth behind their current forward lines. Remi Elie has been a healthy scratch for all but eight games this season. Scott Wilson, who appeared in 49 games for Buffalo last season, is expected to resume practicing with the team soon. Alexander Nylander and Victor Olofsson are options in Rochester.
The Sabres have already handled the pressure of a 10-game win streak and own 11 wins in one-goal games, eight of which came in overtime or a shootout. They also have 129 man games lost to injury, playing much of the last two weeks without Scandella, Casey Nelson and Jake McCabe. This is an entirely different challenge.
"I think right now we’re limiting our focus on-ice," Eichel said. "We have a big game coming up, and obviously we had a big game tonight. I think the message to the guys in the room was just focus on our task at hand and that’s just playing hockey games."