WASHINGTON — Just six days after being involved in one of the highest-level games they've been a part of in years, the Buffalo Sabres will get another chance against the defending Stanley Cup champions Friday night.
The Sabres and Washington Capitals will meet for the second time in a week in Capital One Arena and this one will be nationally televised by NBC Sports Network. Washington won Saturday's thriller, 4-3, in a shootout as Alex Ovechkin scored one goal plus the shootout winner to overcome a two-goal game from Sabres captain Jack Eichel.
"It was like a heavyweight bout going back and forth and there's lots of stuff we can learn from," goalie Carter Hutton said after practice here Thursday. "They'll make high-risk plays and they're very talented. It's one of those games you have to have fun with because you know they'll get their chances no matter how hard you work. They're built for that."
"For sure we can be better in terms of the way we defend them," Eichel said. "They're so skilled, they generate a lot of Grade A chances. They play so well together. It's a veteran team for a reason. They've played together for a bunch of years, went to the Cup and won it last year."
The Sabres had leads of 1-0 and 3-2 in the game and outshot Washington, 7-3, in overtime but couldn't pull out the victory. The Caps outshot them, 38-29.
"I really liked the way our guys played," said coach Phil Housley. "Obviously that's a very good team, a physical team, a heavy team. But we played with speed and pace and our transition was really good. We were able to attack. ... We had an opportunity to win a game and that breeds a lot of confidence in our group."
"We maybe gave them too much last week and we had to rely on 'Hutts' more than we wanted," Eichel said. "He played great, made sure he stole us a point. We know we can play in their zone. They don't want to be in their end. They want to have the puck."
The Capitals (20-10-3) continue to lead the Metropolitan Division and would overtake the Sabres (20-10-5) in the NHL's overall standing on tiebreakers with a regulation win. Alex Ovechkin (29-14-43) had a career-high point streak end at 14 games in Wednesday's 2-1 loss here to Pittsburgh.
The Sabres are 1-4-2 in their last seven games vs. the Caps and 0-4-2 in their last six meetings here, last winning on Nov. 22, 2014.
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Hutton could only offer a pained smile when asked about the excruciating penalty shot goal against him Tuesday in KeyBank Center from Florida's Evgenii Dadonov. Hutton was like just about everyone else in the building: He said he had never seen a goal scored that way either.
With the score tied at 2-2, it appeared Hutton had stopped Dadonov's attempt and the crowd started to cheer a potential big momentum boost for the Sabres. But Hutton, on his knees, tried to move in the crease when he felt the puck traveling down his body — and crumbled in dismay on his stomach when it slowly rolled into the net to give the Panthers the lead for good.
"It was a tough break. I thought I had it," Hutton said. "You watch the replay and it lands on my pad on edge and slowly, slowly makes its way down and rolls in. I was trying to not move because I knew I had it. I felt it when it fell off the end of my pad. By that time, it was moving and then it hit my skate and kind of scooted over the line. That's obviously a really tough break."
— Buffalo Sabres plays and goals (@SabresPlays) December 19, 2018
The Sabres have faced penalty shots in each of the last two games, with Linus Ullmark stopping Ryan Donato Sunday in Boston before Hutton was beaten by Dadonov. It's just the third time in franchise history the Sabres have given up penalty shots in back-to-back games.
It also happened on Jan 6 and 8, 2000 (New Jersey's Petr Sýkora beat Dwayne Roloson but Martin Biron stopped Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson), and March 20-21, 2009 (Patrick Lalime stopped Philadelphia's Mike Richards and Lauri Korpikoski of the New York Rangers).
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The Sabres had a full complement of players on the ice Thursday, with defensemen Lawrence Pilut, Jake McCabe and Nathan Beaulieu all practicing and forward Scott Wilson skating with the team for the first time since breaking his ankle in training camp.
Pilut and McCabe both skated in regular pairs with Rasmus Ristolainen and Marco Scandella, respectively, and Pilut took turns on the power play. Housley said the team will decide Friday if they will play, although that appears likely unless they have setbacks from their injuries.
Winger Jason Pominville, who was accidentally bulldozed by Ristolainen during a line change Tuesday, was not at practice. Housley would not say if the 36-year-old was in concussion protocol, saying only that he was day to day. Winger Conor Sheary left practice early after what Housley termed a "minor bang-up" in a 3-on-3 drill and should be fine for the game.
A group of the players' mothers were watching from the stands, as they are on the trip and enjoying the sights of the nation's capital.
"It's special, the first time I've been involved in a mothers' trip," Housley said.