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Hodgson scores key shootout goal in Sabres' win

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson made quite an impact in his return to the lineup.

Playing in his first game since suffering an upper body injury on Dec. 21, the veteran center drew a penalty that negated a late goal by the Washington Capitals, then scored the only goal in the shootout, giving the Sabres a 2-1 victory over the Capitals Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.

The win was the Sabres' first on the road since Nov. 5, 2013, snapping an 0-9-2 skid away from First Niagara Center.

"We want to create ourselves an identity," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "What type of team do we want to be? Not a team that plays one way for 20 minutes and then slips off for five. We would like to bottle this and play like this all the time."

Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 30 shots through 65 minutes, but allowed Hodgson to beat him past his glove hand for the game-winner.

The loss ended a modest two-game winning streak for the Capitals, who moved into sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division with 51 points.

"You want the points," said Capitals right winger Joel Ward. "Really, in the season there are no easy games. You want to get points every single time you can because it will bite you later in the year."

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 27 of 28 shots in regulation and overtime, then turned back shootout attempts by left winger Eric Fehr, right winger Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom to earn his 12th win of the season.

His biggest save came with 2:11 remaining in regulation. Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski was staring at an open net, but as his shot was heading into the cage Miller made a diving stop with his paddle.

"That's one of those that you're just completely out of options," Miller said. "I knew I was in trouble. Those can go wrong for you. More often than not those guys are going to score. I don't think he got quite all of it and it gave me time to put a blade on it."

The Capitals thought they scored a late go-ahead goal when defenseman Karl Alzner put a point shot past Miller. But just before Alzner's shot, Backstrom was whistled for tripping Hodgson with 53 seconds remaining in regulation.

"I didn't see it at first," Backstrom said of his penalty. "It was a tough one, for sure."

The Sabres failed to convert on the man-advantage, sending the game into overtime, and then a shootout.

For the Capitals, it was their 17th game decided in either overtime or a shootout. They are now 8-5 in shootouts. The Sabres are 6-2.

After firing a season-high 50 shots at Miller in a 2-1 shootout loss in Buffalo on Dec. 29, the Capitals made a concerted effort to drive the net and disrupt the veteran netminder.

The strategy worked in the first period when Capitals left winger Jason Chimera centered a pass intended for net-crashing center Marcus Johansson. The pass went off the stick of Sabres center Brian Flynn and behind Miller for a 1-0 lead at the11:01 mark.

The score stayed that way until the Sabres scored a power-play goal to tie it at 1-1 with 1:51 remaining in the opening period.

A charging penalty to Capitals rookie right winger Tom Wilson put the Sabres on the man-advantage, and Buffalo center Tyler Ennis converted for his ninth goal of the season.

Ennis got into a collision with Capitals right winger Joel Ward in Buffalo's defensive zone, then beat Ward up the ice to put Hodgson's rebound past Grubauer.

The goal was just the 12th first-period goal for the Sabres in 44 games.

The two teams failed to generate much offense in the second period. Even though the Sabres were given three power plays, they managed just nine shots in the period.

Backstrom said the Capitals need to play better, especially with just four points separating themselves from the sixth-place New Jersey Devils in the Metropolitan Division.

"Shame on us players," Backstrom said. "We had a chance to win the game. Our fault."

NOTES: Before the game, 8-year-old Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, native Braden Nienaber performed the ceremonial puck drop, but before doing so, he kicked Sabres captain Steve Ott out of the faceoff circle, drawing laughs from the crowd. ... Capitals RW Alex Ovechkin entered the game with a season-high four-game point streak (two goals, three assists). After registering 12 shots in the first game between the two teams he managed six on Sunday. ... LW Tyler Ennis' first-period goal was the Sabres' first opening-period goal since Dec. 27. They are last in the NHL with 12 first-period goals in 44 games. ... Capitals RW Martin Erat was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. Erat has asked the Capitals to trade him. ... Sabres Fs Ville Leino (upper body injury) and Cody Hodgson (lower body) returned to the lineup after missing three and eight games, respectively. ... The Sabres play four of their next five games at First Niagara Center, beginning Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals conclude their three-game homestand Tuesday night when they face the San Jose Sharks. They will follow with a Wednesday visit to Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
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