WASHINGTON (AP) — Damar Hamlin was forefront in the minds of the Buffalo Sabres from the time they woke up on a game day through the end of their 5-4 overtime victory at the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
It was evident from the “LOVE FOR 3” shirts players wore into the arena to Hamlin's jersey number in Bills colors on the lapel of general manager Kevyn Adams, who did not even want to talk about Tage Thompson's hat trick and his team's seventh victory in eight games. He and the Sabres were entirely focused on Hamlin, the Bills safety who remained hospitalized in critical condition in Cincinnati after collapsing and going into cardiac arrest during Buffalo’s NFL game Monday night against the Bengals.
“What happened last night is something that makes the game itself and any sport secondary, so it was a tough day for all of us,” Adams said in speaking for the organization. "There’s an emotional connection to the city from our team. It was tough, to be honest, this morning, the conversations. But (players) also, I think, know how much our team means to this city and just wanted to be able to go out and do what we could today to put our best foot forward.”
That added up to some incredible symmetry: Thompson scoring three goals, including the third exactly 3 minutes into 3-on-3 OT, on Jan. 3. One of the new faces of the Sabres franchise, Thompson now has 30 goals this season.
Before Thompson shined against Washington, signs bearing Hamlin’s name and the Bills logo lined the glass during pregame warmups. Adams said the idea to wear matching shirts honoring Hamlin came from a conversation among captain Kyle Okposo and others, with players and coaches not speaking to reporters Tuesday because they were still processing the situation.
The Sabres and Bills share the same owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, and consider themselves part of the same organization. Although this was a Buffalo road game, the Capitals paid tribute to Hamlin with a moment of support before the national anthem, which Adams said the team and city appreciated.
“I think what comes through from our players is how much they care about the people in Buffalo,” Adams said. "And I think they also feel that there’s a lot of people that are thinking about a lot more important things than a hockey game, but let’s try to go out there and do our best.”
Thompson had another strong game with four points to reach 55 this season, third in the NHL scoring race. Even after Washington's Alex Ovechkin had two goals, only Connor McDavid has scored more this season than Thompson.
Alex Tuch also scored off a spinning pass from Thompson, and Tyson Jost tied it in the third period after the Sabres let a 3-1 lead slip away. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen became the 167th different goaltender Ovechkin has scored on, but his 28 saves kept Buffalo in the game when the Capitals tilted the ice toward him.
“We turned the puck over too much and they had the jump on us, I thought," coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was not a good first, and I thought the second and third, their goaltender played really well.”
Washington lost for just the third time in 14 games. Ovechkin reached 808 goals — 86 back of Wayne Gretzky's record — and Sonny Milano and Nic Dowd also scored for the Capitals, who got winger T.J. Oshie back from a six-game absence because of an upper-body injury.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper allowed five goals on 29 shots.
Sabres: Host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
Capitals: Visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press