Vanecek makes 30 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Washington Capitals forward Carl Hagelin (62) carries the puck past Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart (23) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Washington Capitals' Jakub Vrana (13) is congratulated for his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel carries the puck during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Buffalo Sabres forward Cody Eakin (20) is stopped by Washngton Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek (41) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart (23) and Washington Capitals forward Conor Sheary (73) collide during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson (43) falls during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson (68) skates between Washington Capitals' Brenden Dillon (4) and Tom Wilson (43) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Vitek Vanecek made 30 saves in his NHL debut, Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Friday night to sweep the season-opening series.

“The dream came true,” Vitek said before Wilson threw a towel full of shaving cream in his face during the goalie’s postgame interview. “I’m just so happy we won.”

The 25-year-old Vitek, a second-round draft pick of the Capitals in 2014, made his first NHL start after five seasons in the minor leagues. With Vitek backing up 23-year-old Ilya Samsonov, the Capitals have the league’s youngest goalie tandem.

“He won the game for us,” said Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom, who assisted on Wilson’s winning goal. “He’s been in the minors a couple years. He’s got some experience here. But coming in on this stage, I think Buffalo played way better than us and they really attacked him tonight.”

Jakub Vrana scored his second goal of the season for the Capitals, 6-4 winners over the Sabres on Thursday night.

Rasmus Ristolainen scored for Buffalo, and Linus Ullmark stopped 19 shots.

“We beat them in pretty well every category except for scoring,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “We just ran into an extremely hot goaltender on the other end.”

Wilson gave Washington the lead for good midway through the third period. Nicklas Backstrom dropped the puck off in the right circle for Wilson, and he flung a wrist shot over Ullmark’s glove.

Ristolainen tied it for Buffalo in the opening minute of the third. His snap shot from the blue line wiggled underneath Vanecek’s glove after deflecting off the lower leg of Wilson, who was defending Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart in front of the net.

“So I think Vitek actually hasn’t had another team score on him yet,” Wilson said. “He played a great game. It was kind of unfortunate that bounce when in on him.”

Washington went ahead early in the second period on Vrana’s partial breakaway. Wilson took the puck from Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin in the Capitals zone before setting up Vrana.

PENALTY KILLERS

Vitek shut out the Sabres on five power-play chances. Buffalo did not commit a penalty.

“We didn’t do too much to draw penalties,” Capitals defenseman Justin Schultz said. “We got to work on that. Move our feet and we’ll get calls. Maybe a couple of those against us were a little soft. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. You just have to deal with it and Vitek did a great job for us on the kill.”

RETURNING TO THE LINEUP

Sabres C Eric Staal was back on the ice after leaving in the third period Thursday following a hit to the head from Capitals C Nick Dowd. Staal was listed as a game-time decision.

Taylor Hall and Reinhart both went to the dressing room before returning to the Buffalo bench. Reinhart tripped and slid into the end boards during the second period, and Hall took an errant puck to the face in the third. Hall, Buffalo’s marquee offseason acquisition, assisted on Ristolainen’s goal.

SCHEDULE SHUFFLE

Both teams had games rescheduled after the postponement of Friday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Buffalo will now play March 26 at Pittsburgh on March 26 and at home against Pittsburgh on April 19. Washington will play April 10 at Boston. All three games were originally scheduled for the following date.

WHAT’S NEXT:

Capitals: At Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Sabres: At Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday nights.

___

https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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