WASHINGTON -- Two games in seven days on the home ice of the Stanley Cup champions. Two gut-wrenching, one-goal losses. Just one point in the standings.
The Buffalo Sabres were left cursing their fate Friday night as the Washington Capitals squeezed out a 2-1 win in Capital One Arena. The frustration was borne from the what-ifs that abound in this one.
The Sabres outshot Washington, 37-24, and had 72 attempts at the net compared to the Caps' 50. The shots on goal in the third period were 17-8 and Buffalo had four on a late power play that stretched into the final 12 seconds.
The Sabres continue to have a terrible time getting any scoring from other than their top line. And on this night, Sam Reinhart (11 games), Jack Eichel (7) and Jeff Skinner (7) all lost point streaks as they were shut out. No one else is rippling the net at all, so mistakes can't happen at the other end of the ice.
And there were two critical ones as Buffalo fell to 3-5-3 in its last 11 games after its 10-game winning streak.
Carter Stephenson scored a short-handed goal for Washington in the second period when Rasmus Ristolainen was too loose with the puck at the Caps' line and Rasmus Dahlin didn't get back in time to guard against Nic Dowd's high flip pass.
And with the game tied at 1-1, goalie Carter Hutton got caught behind the net and was stripped by Evgeny Kuznetsov. The puck was sent to the front and Tom Wilson banged it home into the mostly empty net with seven minutes left to notch the game-winning goal.
"The guy (Kuznetsov) got a hack in on me, I kind of fumbled it and they capitalized," Hutton said glumly.
"He's been terrific for us," coach Phil Housley said. "It's one of those things where I'm sure if he was in that position again, I'm sure he'd like to do something differently. He just lost the handle and they pounced on it. For all the good things he's done, they outweigh that play."
But with the offense unable to beat Braden Holtby other than Johan Larsson's tip-in at 9:01 of the third period, there was just no margin for error.
Conor Sheary was one of Buffalo's best forwards in the game but he was stopped on a first-period breakaway and couldn't connect on a second-period sequence during which Holtby came Dominik Hasek-style to the Caps' blueline to short-circuit Ristolainen and Sheary's work with a loose puck.
"It just takes that one opportunity, seeing it go in and I think you'll grow confidence from there," said Sheary, who has no goals in 15 games.
Sheary is far from alone. Kyle Okposo has no goals in his last 18 games and no points in his last 11. Vladimir Sobotka has no points in 14 games. Tage Thompson, who assisted on Larsson's goal, has no goals in 10 games.
The offensive struggles belied how Buffalo played in the third period, keeping the Caps on their heels on their home ice. NHL goal leader Alexander Ovechkin was mostly silent, with only one shot on goal in the game.
"We were going North. We were playing a much faster game," Housley said. "There wasn't any East-West. When we had an opportunity to attack off the rush with wide speed, we took it. Then we got the puck to the net. It's a simple recipe to score. When we did have those good looks, we just couldn't find it. You can't fault the effort."
The Sabres lost here last week in a shootout, 4-3, but still had some positive takeaways from the two-game set.
"It was a better effort today," Larsson said. "We had more of the game and more of the chances. But they're winners. They've won a lot so they know how to be in games but I think we're there. We've just got to play the same way."
"We outshot them. We outchanced them," Housley said. "We just didn't beat them on the scoreboard."