LANDOVER -- The crowd of 12,461 at USAir Arena stood and cheered, as the Washington Capitals gathered around their goal and hugged each other last night.
The game was over and the Capitals' struggle was, too. After six straight losses, Washington won, beating the Buffalo Sabres, 4-3.
With Todd Krygier, Dave Poulin and Al Iafrate playing like men who wanted to make a difference in the third period, Washington avoided matching a 10-year-old record of futility.
"The initial feeling was relief, sheer relief," said Krygier, who scored the game-tying goal and assisted on the winning goal by Al Iafrate, with 6:57 to play. "The last couple games, I've tried to pick up my intensity and my work ethic. I just keep going to the net and the puck went in. I think we felt we'd win at the start. It was a kind of carry-over from Friday, when we should have beaten Philadelphia."
Iafrate got things going for Washington in the first period, when ,, he whisked the puck to Peter Bondra at the near post and Bondra put it away 2:24 in to the game.
It was Washington's first lead since the 3:34 mark of the third period in Winnipeg. And when Randy Burridge redirected Iafrate's shot from the blue line with 18:53 gone in the period, it was the Capitals' first two-goal lead of the season.
Buffalo started coming back in the second period, when Scott Thomas was able to score a power-play goal with 5:32 gone.
After a goal by Krygier was disallowed because he was in the crease, the Sabres tied it at 2-2, with 2:33 to go. Center Pat LaFontaine carried the puck behind the Washington net and was able to get a pass out to an on-rushing Craig Simpson, who simply beat Capitals goaltender Don Beaupre.
"It was another test of our emotions and our resolve," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "It was a test just to keep calm. When they came back to tie, you could feel and hear the irritation, but we kept our intensity. It's how you bounce back that counts, and we never stopped driving after they tied it up."
The four-goal performance was Washington's biggest since opening night in Winnipeg, when it lost, 6-4. The goals and the 49 shots matched season highs and were enough to have Buffalo goaltender Grant Fuhr talking to himself.
"They didn't look like they lacked offense to me," he said. "They didn't look bad at all. They kept me a little busy. You've got to do what you got to do to win a hockey game and that's what they did, and we came up a little short again."
Buffalo is 1-4, after opening the season with a victory over Boston.
The last time Washington had started a season with six losses was 1983-84, when it opened 0-7 and produced the longest pointless opening streak in franchise history.
"I told the guys as we were gathered at the net celebrating, 'See, we still remember how to do this,' " said Poulin, who was experiencing his first victory as a Capital. "We had to find a way to win a hockey game and we did. On that last goal, Dimitri [Khristich], Todd Krygier and I got a lot of pressure down deep and it paid off. Todd got the puck in there and I tried to hit it in and it bounced to Al who was able to finish it. I think we're going to win a lot more."
Beaupre, who has been pulled twice during games this season and seen rookies start ahead of him twice, got the victory with a 19-save performance. He came up big with a foot save with 8:10 left to keep Washington from falling behind, after the Caps had battled back for the 3-3 tie.
"We can't take winning for granted now," said Beaupre. "Los Angeles is next and it's obvious nothing is going to be easy. But it's a relief to get this one. It was a great game Friday and we should have won. There was no way we were going to let this one get away."
Buffalo 0 2 1 -- 3
Washington 2 0 2 -- 4