During the mix of surprising the entire NHL, the Sabres were on their way to the playoffs. In March of the 2005-2006 season, Buffalo made a trip to the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Capitals.
The Sabres entered the game winning six in a row and looking to move into the Northeast Division lead. Vanek, who was a 22-year-old rookie at the time, was tied for the team lead with Ales Kotalik with 23 goals.
Tim Connolly got the scoring started with a backhanded goal past Brent Johnson just over five minutes into the first period. Washington struck back with three straight goals, including a powerplay goal from Alex Ovechkin. Jeff Halpern added the third Washington goal with 41 seconds remaining in the first.
Trailing 3-1, Daniel Briere took a wrist shot to cut the lead in half. Briere took the pass from Connolly and scored on the powerplay. Two minutes later, Briere scored again. This time it was Jochen Hecht and J.P. Dumont with the assists, and the game was tied at three.
With five seconds to go in the second period, Ben Clymer put the Capitals back on top with another powerplay goal. Despite all of the scoring, both teams decided to leave their starting goaltenders in net.
In the third, the powerplay was effective again. It was Derek Roy who tied the game at four with seven minutes remaining. With less than two minutes to play, Ales Kotalik ripped a shot past Johnson to give Buffalo a 5-4 lead.
Overtime was not an option for Buffalo, as they were able to hold off the Capitals. Maxim Afinogenov scored an empty net goal with just one second remaining, making the final score 6-4.
Briere finished the game with two goals and two assists, and was named the first star. Briere had five goals and 11 assists in eight games since returning from a sports hernia injury after the Olympic break.
“It’s not something we’re looking forward to, to go down two goals, but we did it in Boston and we did it a few days ago in Philly,” Briere said. “It’s pretty impressive. For us, after the first period, it was just about trying to come back in the game – finding a way to get that first one. After that, we knew anything was possible.”
Ryan Miller earned the win after stopping 29 of 33 shots. Brent Johnson suffered the loss after allowing five goals on 40 shots.