Washington, D.C. (WGR 550) - The Buffalo Sabres wrapped up their quick three-game road trip on Tuesday night, as they traveled to the nation's capital to take on the Washington Capitals in an important Eastern Conference matchup.
The first period was another sloppy start for the Sabres, but they managed to get on the board first when Alex Tuch scored at the halfway point in the frame. Capitals forward Sonny Milano tied the game just two minutes later, but center Tage Thompson scored near the end of the period on the power play to give the Sabres the 2-1 lead.
Buffalo lengthened their lead early in the second period with another goal from Thompson that made the score 3-1. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored towards the end of the period to cut Washington's deficit to 3-2 heading into the final frame.
The Capitals scored two quick goals early in the third period, one from Nic Dowd and the other from Ovechkin, to give Washington a 4-3 lead.
However, Tyson Jost tied the game again at 4-4 just over three minutes later, and that's how the game remained through the final whistle of regulation.
The Sabres entered overtime with a man-advantage but were unable to capitalize. But with two minutes remaining on the clock in the extra five-minute frame, Thompson netted his third goal of the game to win it for Buffalo, 5-4.
Buffalo earned another hard-fought win on Tuesday night that not only inched the team closer to a playoff spot, but also gave the community another big victory.
Here are three observations from this game:
1.) Playoff potential
With Tuesday's win over Washington, the Sabres are now just four points out of a Wild Card spot in the race for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The team they are chasing is the New York Islanders at 44 points.
Buffalo is also only seven points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who hold the third spot in the Atlantic Division. While a Wild Card spot would be easier to attain for the Sabres, the divisional spot would be more secure.
This is exciting and promising for the team and its fans, as the team hasn't been this close in the playoff conversation for some time now. This is causing growing interest from fans, along with helping the team gain confidence as the season moves on.
2.) Growing NHL superstars
The talk of the season for the Sabres has been their young emerging players who could be the stars of tomorrow in the NHL. However, it seems that some of these players have gained that status now.
While names like Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen still need some time to grow into their roles, there are others who are already there. Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin are a couple of players that consistently perform for the Sabres night-in and night-out.
Thanks to his hat-trick on Tuesday, Thompson is second in the league in goals with 30, and is third in the league with 55 points. Seeing that they are only at game No. 36 of the season, these numbers have elevated Thompson into the conversation of being a top-10 player in the NHL.
3.) Love for 3
All of Buffalo and millions of other NFL fans witnessed a tragedy Monday night during the Buffalo Bills' showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Bills safety Damar Hamiln was hit hard during a routine play and needed emergency personnel to administer CPR on the field before being transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The game eventually was suspended with no makeup date scheduled at this time.
Hamlin remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit at the hospital.
Moving forward to Tuesday night, the entire Western New York community, along with parts of the country, rallied around Hamlin, including the Sabres.
The Sabres arrived to Capital One Arena on Tuesday sporting "Love for 3" t-shirts, while the two teams held a moment of silence for Hamlin prior to the game.
The No. 3 became the theme of the win when Thompson scored his third goal, in the third minute of overtime, on the third day of January, for his 30th goal of the season.
As everyone still waits for positive updates on Hamlin's condition, the Sabres, the city, and the country are still showing their "Love for 3".
The Sabres will head back home this upcoming weekend, as they get set to host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at KeyBank Center. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. EST with pregame coverage on WGR starting at 6 p.m. EST with Brian Koziol.