WASHINGTON — Linus Ullmark endured a wave of emotions in less than a week since learning of his father's death at the age of 63.
After stopping all three shots he faced in the shootout Sunday to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Washington Capitals 4-3 for his first victory of the season, the Swedish goaltender felt a mix of relief and joy.
“It’s been rough, definitely,” Ullmark said. “There’s a lot of emotions and thoughts that had to be processed. I’m trying to take it day by day. Try to be happy when I’m happy, try to be sad when I’m sad and right now I’m utterly grateful for getting a win.”
Despite not playing Monday night hours after hearing the news, Ullmark got the game puck from captain Jack Eichel following Buffalo's victory at Philadelphia. Ullmark got to give it out this time after making 28 saves in overtime and regulation and turning aside John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom in the shootout.
“He stepped up big,” said Eichel, who scored the shootout winner for Buffalo's second victory in six games this season. “He made some key saves. Obviously an emotional week for him, so it’s good to see him get a win.”
It was the grieving Ullmark’s second consecutive start after his short break, and the Sabres needed him with goaltender Carter Hutton injured.
Colin Miller, Victor Olfosson and Eric Staal each scored on the power play for Buffalo, which rode special teams play to snap a two-game skid. The Sabres outshot the Capitals 48-31 and beat them for the first time in four meetings.
“We definitely deserved one win out of these four,” coach Ralph Krueger said. “It wasn’t necessarily what I would call a solid or pretty win, but it was an extremely important one, and we had to dig down a few times again after disappointment and found a way.”
Justin Schultz scored his first goal with Washington and mainstays T.J. Oshie and Backstrom each had a power-play goal. The Capitals were playing without five prominent players: captain Alex Ovechkin, centre Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenceman Dmitry Orlov and goalie Ilya Samsonov because of COVID-19 protocols and right winger Tom Wilson because of a lower-body injury.
“I am real proud of the guys and how they played,” coach Peter Laviolette said. "They battled through adversity here for a couple games because there are some big names that are out of the lineup, but it didn’t affect anybody. There is a mindset in there to win hockey games and the guys played hard to try to get that done.”
Vitek Vanecek made a career-high 45 saves and kissed the post after Taylor Hall's penalty shot attempt midway through the third period clanked off it.
The Capitals went to overtime for a fourth consecutive game and have earned at least a point every time they’ve played this season. The last time they played four OT games in a row was March 29-April 5, 2011.
With Wilson out, top Capitals prospect Connor McMichael made his NHL debut. McMichael got the rookie tradition of a solo lap before pregame warmups began and played left wing on the second line with Lars Eller and Richard Panik.
“This is what you work for your whole life,” McMichael said. "Obviously, a little bit of nerves, but I thought I had a good game.”
Trevor van Riemsdyk also made his Washington debut, replacing Nick Jensen on the blue line.
Congrats on your first NHL goal, Dylan Cozens. Now take a seat.
The Sabres sat Cozens two days after his big milestone with veteran Kyle Okposo ready to play for the first time this season. Casey Mittelstadt also got recalled from the taxi squad — where Cozens was sent for a day — to replace Tage Thompson.
“Just in the plan,” Krueger said. “We had mentioned preseason that we need to keep the taxi-squad players active and we need to watch the load on some of the other players. Dylan is one of them, so he has an opportunity to take a breath and watch the game.”
Sabres: Return home to face the New York Rangers on Tuesday for the first of two in a row and the start of a four-game homestand.
Capitals: Host former coach Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders on Tuesday in the first half of a two-game series.
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