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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Alex Ovechkin can stop fretting about what the Washington Capitals captain described as the worst game of his career.
He and the Capitals were much better in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, two days after a 7-1 meltdown at Chicago.
After being held without a shot against Chicago, Ovechkin responded by scoring his NHL-leading 35th goal, and Washington reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division
"Yeah, I think the last game I didn't play my game. I think it was the worst play of my career by myself. I take the blame on it," Ovechkin said. "I think we understand the game in Chicago was just forget about it, you know. We moved forward. We got two points."
Capitals coach Barry Trotz noticed how much more involved Ovechkin was against Buffalo, particularly after a few early exchanges with Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
"Sometimes to wake up the bear up, you poke him a little, and he goes," Trotz said of Ovechkin, who reached the 35-goal plateau for the 10th time in 13 NHL seasons.
John Carlson had a goal and assist and Philipp Grubauer stopped 32 shots in a game Washington led 2-0 after two periods.
Evgeny Kuznetsov sealed the victory by scoring into an open net with 26 seconds remaining to put Washington up 3-1, and the Capitals ended a four-game road trip at 2-1-1.
Washington improved to 34-18-7 for 75 points, moving one ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins, while preparing for a showdown at home Tuesday against Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Kyle Okposo spoiled Grubauer's shutout bid by having Scott Wilson's shot from the high slot deflect in off him with 7:18 remaining.
Evander Kane closed the scoring with 4 seconds left in a final period in which Buffalo managed 17 of its 34 shots. Backup goalie Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots, starting in place of Robin Lehner, who was given a day off to rest a nagging lower-body injury.
Though disappointed in the outcome, Sabres coach Phil Housley was more pleased with his team's overall performance following a sloppy 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
"The result, definitely we don't like. We want to win at home here," Housley said. "But against a really good hockey team, I can't fault our guys for the effort."
The Capitals struck twice in the second period on goals determined by video reviews.
Ovechkin scored 1:18 into the period by getting his stick up to bat down Christian Djoos' rising shot from the left point and bounce it inside the left post. The goal held up, with the NHL ruling Ovechkin's stick was not above the crossbar.
Carlson scored with 6:27 left in the second period during a scramble for the puck to the left of the Buffalo net. Carlson jammed the puck loose and into the crease, where it briefly rolled across the goal line an instant before Okposo kicked it out.
Play continued until the next whistle with 6:13 left, when a review determined the puck went in.
Johnson wasn't sure how high Ovechkin's stick was on the first goal, though he knew the second goal was in.
"It's just two lucky goals and that's the game," Johnson said. "Obviously, we made a good push in the third. It just wasn't enough."
Carlson said the Capitals can take some positives out of a trip in which they opened with a 4-3 overtime loss at Winnipeg and then beat Minnesota 5-2.
"The stinker, everyone talks about it," Carlson said, referring the loss at Chicago. "But we played a lot of good minutes of hockey on this trip."
NOTES: A few hours before the opening faceoff, the Capitals acquired D Michal Kempny in a trade with Chicago for a conditional 2018 third-round pick. ... Trotz laughed in describing the phone conversation he had in welcoming Kempny to the team. "I told him, we're not as bad as he saw in Chicago," Trotz said. ... Buffalo recalled G Linus Ullmark from AHL Rochester to back up Johnson. Ullmark was returned to the minors immediately after the game.
Capitals: At home against Tampa Bay.
Sabres: Play their next two on the road, starting at the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.
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