WASHINGTON — A "Let's Go Buffalo" chant erupted when Rasmus Dahlin buried a rebound into the back of the net Saturday night at Capital One Arena, the home of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The 18-year-old rookie defenseman had just given the Buffalo Sabres a one-goal lead when the Washington Capitals were playing the second night of a back-to-back. It was another playoff-like atmosphere before the All-Star break. While the Sabres lost, 4-3, on Alex Ovechkin's goal in the fourth shootout round, they left with no doubt they could play with another team that's among the NHL's elite.
Buffalo, 19-9-5 with 43 points, received a bounceback third period from Carter Hutton, who stopped Ovechkin's shot from the slot with 13 minutes remaining. However, the Capitals, 20-9-3 with 43 points, won their fifth straight game with shootout goals by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin.
"We knew it was one of the best teams in the league," Dahlin said. "It was tough out there, but I think Hutts had a great game. We battled hard and scored some goals. It’s not fun to lose, but it’s a huge point."
Ovechkin, Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana also scored for Washington, which benefited from Buffalo losing defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to an injury in the second period. The Sabres were backed by two goals from Jack Eichel — his 11th and 12th of the season — while Dahlin's goal on a rebound 7:21 into the second period gave them the lead.
Hutton made 35 saves in his second consecutive start since returning from injury, including his stop on Ovechkin's shot from the slot with over 13 minutes remaining in regulation. Casey Mittelstadt scored in the third shootout round to extend the game.
"All in all I liked our game," coach Phil Housley said. "We have an opportunity to win the hockey game late in the third there. Can’t fault our effort there."
Opening goal: The Sabres broke the scoreless tie 2:41 into the first period following Washington defenseman Michal Kempny's high sticking penalty. After Dahlin nearly scored on a slap shot from near the slot, another shot seconds later created a rebound that Eichel one-timed into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Buffalo entered the game 13-1-3 this season when scoring first.
Miscommunication: Hutton made an uncharacteristic mistake less than one minute later when he went behind the net to play the puck. Beaulieu stood idle and appeared to be waiting for Hutton to play it up the wall, but Devante Smith-Pelly stole the puck and passed in front to Connolly, who beat Matt Tennyson in front of the net.
Two out of three: Tennyson and Beaulieu were on the ice for two goals allowed in their first three shifts. The second goal came at 9:41 when Kuznetsov passed to Vrana in the high slot, where Vrana fired a slap shot that beat Hutton to make it 2-1.
Sabres answer: Washington's reckless play in the defensive zone led to another penalty early in the second period, and Eichel capitalized 2:25 in when he rushed up the right side, deked around defenseman Dmitry Orlov and beat Pheonix Copley short side with a high shot.
Eichel has seven goals over his last five games and this was his 16th multipoint game of the season.
Dahlin does it again: After forcing a turnover to maintain possession in the offensive zone, Dahlin scored when he gathered a loose puck and scored his second goal of the season 7:21 into the second period to tie the score. It was Dahlin's third goal of the season. He also assisted on both of Eichel's goals.
Ovechkin keeps rolling: Ovechkin remains in the league lead with 29 goals and is one shy from his 14th consecutive 30-goal season. He has a point in 14 consecutive games in 10 of his last 11 after scoring back-to-back hat tricks this week against Detroit and Carolina.
His slap shot from a few feet behind the right faceoff circle beat Hutton with 6:14 left in the second to tie the score, 3-3.
"They’re a really good hockey team," Hutton said. "They just get pucks in. They see pucks, they shoot pucks. They get a lot of good chances. They have a lot of guys who have patience in tough areas, a lot of stuff you can’t teach. These are veteran guys who have poise and a lot of experience."
Another D-man down: Beaulieu left the game in the second period after being checked by the Capitals' Tom Wilson and did not return for the third period. Beaulieu played only 45 seconds in the second period, another blow to an already depleted defense.
Special teams: The Sabres were 2 for 3 on the power play and killed all four of their penalties, including one only 16 seconds into the third period.
Hutton's third: Hutton stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period and three in overtime, including Kuznetsov's breakaway during the latter.
Streak continues: Sam Reinhart extended his point streak to nine consecutive games with two assists against the Capitals.
Injury updates: Defenseman Marco Scandella returned after missing the previous eight games with an upper-body injury. Meanwhile, Jake McCabe and Casey Nelson remained out of the lineup. Matt Hunwick, a 33-year-old defenseman who has yet to play a game since being acquired from Pittsburgh in July, participated in pregame warm-ups after being recalled from his conditioning assignment with Rochester earlier in the day.
Housley said Hunwick could play Sunday against Boston.
Pilut missing: With Scandella back, defenseman Lawrence Pilut, who played the Sabres' previous six games, was scratched with a lower-body injury. Pilut, 22, has two assists and a plus-3 rating in six games this season. Winger Remi Elie was a healthy scratch.
Next: The Sabres headed north on a short charter flight to Boston, where they will play the Bruins Sunday at 5 p.m. at TD Garden.