Nick Wass, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Ryan Miller stopped 44 shots, Drew Stafford scored two goals and the surging Buffalo Sabres beat Washington 5-1 Tuesday night to climb over the Capitals into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
It was the fifth straight win for the Sabres, their longest streak since a six-game run in 2009-2010. Buffalo was in 14th place on Feb. 17 before going on a 14-2-4 tear.
Buffalo took a 3-0 lead early in the second period and coasted home behind Miller, who's 14-1-3 over his last 18 games, allowing only 32 goals in that span. He's also 8-0-2 in his last 10.
The Sabres now have 86 points, two more than Washington and two fewer than seventh-place Ottawa. All three teams have five games left.
Buffalo took control with a two-goal first period and went up 3-0 on Thomas Vanek's 25th goal of the season at 2:31 of the second period. That chased Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 15 shots.
Alexander Semin answered for Washington at 5:07 of the period, and the Capitals had a chance to further cut into the deficit with a power play. Instead, Washington's most esteemed player made a critical mistake that pretty much sealed the decision.
With the Capitals working in Buffalo's end of the ice, Alex Ovechkin misplayed the puck at the point and Buffalo's Jason Pominville gained possession and bolted the other way, ending his run with a short-handed goal against Michal Neuvirth for a 4-1 lead.
After his futile chase after Pominville, Ovechkin pounded his stick on the ice in frustration.
Ovechkin came in with seven goals and an assist over his previous five games, but in this contest he didn't get a point and mustered only two shots over the first two periods.
Stafford got his second goal of the game and 19th of the season at 9:29 of the third period, sending a good portion of the sellout crowd scurrying for the exits.
The Sabres opened the scoring at 8:45 of the first period when Cody McCormick registered his first goal in 67 games since February 2011. Holtby's effort to clear the puck from behind the net ended up on the stick of Buffalo's Brad Boyes, who whipped a centering pass to McCormick in the slot.
McCormick is the 30th different player to score a goal for the Sabres this season. The last team to have more than 30 players score a goal in a season was the 2006-07 Phoenix Coyotes with 32.
It became 2-0 at 18:05 of the period when Stafford tipped in his own rebound after Holtby let Stafford's first attempt slip behind him in the crease.
Washington had several decent scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes, but Miller was up for the challenge. He cast aside all 10 of the Capitals' first-period shots, including three while Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta was in the penalty box for interference.
NOTES: Buffalo D Christian Ehrhoff hurt his left knee in a collision with Troy Brouwer late in the first period and did not return. ... Capitals GM George McPhee said C Nicklas Backstrom, who has been sidelined since early January with a concussion, has passed a baseline test and will decide himself when to resume playing. McPhee said, "''We'll see where it goes from here, but it looks like the worst is behind for Nicky." ... The Capitals signed free agent D Cameron Schilling to a two-year entry-level contract. The 23-year-old Schilling played in 144 games with Miami (Ohio). ... Buffalo won the season series 3-1, its first series win against the Capitals since 2007-08.
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