Washington stays on outskirts of playoff race with win

The excuses are there if the Capitals want to go that route: injuries to key players, a difficult schedule, a new coach and no training camp to learn his system.

At this desperate point, though, no one has the stomach for them. In a lockout-shortened NHL season, every team has problems, and sympathy is in short supply. And so if Washington is going to scratch and claw its way into the Stanley Cup playoffs, then games like Sunday night's against the Buffalo Sabres are absolute must wins.

An explosive second period ensured at least that small step forward. Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera all scored within a span of 5:22 to blow open a tie game on the way to a 5-3 victory for the Caps at Verizon Center. Washington (11-15-1, 25 points) is now tied for 12th place in the conference and six points out of the final playoff spot with 20 games left.

"We need to win every day," star winger Alex Ovechkin said. "How many games left? Twenty games. I saw right away that Winnipeg was losing. It give us right away little plus, I think."

The Caps opened the scoring just 19 seconds into the game when Ovechkin took a faceoff win from teammate Nicklas Backstrom and rifled a shot past goalie Ryan Miller for the 1-0 lead. It was his 11th goal of the season and the fastest in a game this season for Washington.

But the Sabres quickly tied it in the second. Cody Hodgson needed just 12 seconds to beat goalie Braden Holtby. He later added a second goal in the third period.

Brouwer put the Caps back on top again at 14:54 of the second period on the power play. Mike Ribeiro took a pass near the goal line and skated backward in front of the net with no resistance. He deftly flipped a pass into the slot, where Brouwer whipped it home for the 2-1 lead.

Then the roof caved in on Buffalo. On a partial line change, Brouwer took a pass from Ribeiro behind the net and held it while Chimera tore off the bench toward the goal. Brouwer hit him with a perfect pass, and Chimera slammed the puck in for a 3-1 advantage.

It was his first regular-season goal since April 2, 2012. The tally came as a huge relief to Chimera, who scored a career-high 20 goals last season and four more in the postseason to earn a contract extension. But he had yet to score this season and was growing increasingly frustrated. Washington coach Adam Oates even had a talk with his veteran forward before Sunday's game.

"I told him [Saturday] in the game against Boston we had 11 chances five-on-five, and [Chimera] was involved in six of them," Oates said. "That means you're doing some good things and you're involved in the game. He had a couple good chances, one in front basically the same as the goal tonight. It finally went in for him."

Johansson scored what proved to be the game-winning goal just 43 seconds later. It was the second-fastest back-to-back goals scored by the Caps in 2013. Mathieu Perreault added another goal with 4:55 left.