LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals had their 10th sellout crowd of the season on hand last night, and for two periods, it appeared they'd put them all to sleep before they were finished exchanging rushes with the Buffalo Sabres.
But by the halfway point of the third period, the Capitals had the 18,130 on their feet screaming.
In a little less than six minutes, the Caps took the lead on a power-play goal by Joe Juneau, killed a five-minute major penalty brought on when big defenseman Mark Tinordi was caught spearing, and made it clear they were fully intending to get goalie Jim Carey his fourth shutout of the season and eighth of his career if they could.
And they did, holding on for the 1-0 victory as Carey registered 20 saves.
It was the third time this season the Sabres had been shut out. And it was the second time in three games that they squandered a fine performance by goalie Dominik Hasek. Hasek, who made 19 saves last night, was also in the net Jan. 17 when the Sabres lost, 1-0, to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The victory was the first for Washington since before the All-Star break, when it beat Chicago, 3-2, also on Jan. 17.
The Caps had been on an 0-2 run this week and face another tough game here tomorrow in a noon showdown with the Philadelphia Flyers.
For Carey, it was a wonderful comeback from his last outing, a disappointing 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers when Washington allowed four power-play goals.
That night, Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld told him to forget it. "You were great before," Schoenfeld said then. "You'll be great again."
Juneau's goal was also a great way to return. The Caps center missed the last two games because of the flu.
But last night he was back in the lineup, and with 5:05 gone in the third, he made the most of a Sylvain Cote rebound, lifting it high and putting it past Hasek's glove.
Just 14 seconds later, Tiordi was caught spearing Sabres left wing Matthew Barnaby and was given the five-minute major and a game misconduct.
This was the second meeting of the season between these two teams and aside from the score, the first one was no indication of how the second one would go.
In Buffalo on Dec. 8, the Capitals took a season-high 52 shots and emerged with a 2-2 tie. Last night, they didn't get their first shot at even-strength until there was just 7:35 left in the opening period but still outshot Buffalo, 9-6.
The Capitals had four power plays over the first 40 minutes, including a 5-on-3 opportunity for 1:17 of the first. On the two-man advantage it took a full 27 seconds for Calle Johansson to take a slap shot from the blue line. It was Washington's first shot of the power play and first shot of the game at 13:06.
Buffalo didn't do much better, going 0-for-3 on the power play. Sabres Mark Astley, Pat LaFontaine and Randy Burridge forced Carey to make a couple of big saves in the first period, and in the second the Caps goalie, who was back in the net after taking a rare night off in New Jersey Thursday while Olie Kolzig played in the 3-1 loss, was absolutely brilliant in the second.
He stopped Gary Galley's shot from the slot. He stopped LaFontaine point blank and he stopped Brent Hughes, who tried to lift one high on him.
After awhile, the game seemed to establish a pattern. The Sabres would shoot, Carey would make the initial save, the Caps would pick up the rebound and clear it. And then it would start all over again.
One scene that no one wanted to see repeated came with 22.1 seconds left in the first period. Burridge was driving toward the Caps net, when Washington defenseman Joe Reekie dove to the ice to block the shot by the former Capital. Reekie took the full force of the puck in his face at near point-blank range.
It was a blow that would knock most people out of action for at least the entire weekend. Reekie got four stitches under his nose and an X-ray and was back on the ice for a shift at 9:01 of the second.