WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin called it the start of the Washington Capitals' "biggest week" of the season.
Residing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings since the start of the season, the Capitals began their week with a hard-earned 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres Sunday night at the Verizon Center.
The Capitals (12-15-1, 25 points) moved past the Sabres (10-15-4, 24 points) and into 12th place in the standings, six points behind the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes and seven behind the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets, whom they face in back-to-back games later this week in Winnipeg.
The Capitals begin their four-game road trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, then continue with two games in Winnipeg and one in New York against the Rangers.
"It's the biggest week for us," Ovechkin said. "We can end the season this week (or) we can continue to fight for the playoffs."
Jason Chimera, who snapped a 27-game goal drought, the longest of his career, agreed.
"It's huge," he said. "We needed to get back in the win column and have a good feeling going into Pittsburgh, where they are playing really well right now."
The Penguins have won nine games in a row.
The Sabres, meanwhile, lost for the sixth time in seven games.
The Capitals used a three-goal flurry in the second period to take a big lead, then needed a late goal by Mathieu Perreault to put away the Sabres.
Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson also scored for the Capitals.
Cody Hodgson scored two goals and Brian Flynn scored one for the Sabres.
"Obviously, it's frustrating to give up (five) goals and then when we do work our way back we try to stay positive. But at the end of the day we need to win and (losing) is not something we can keep doing."
After losing for the fourth time in five games the day before in Boston, the Capitals didn't waste any time getting the home crowd on their side.
Center Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff back to Alex Ovechkin who smoked a wrist shot past Ryan Miller for his 11th goal of the season just 19 seconds into the game. It was the fastest goal to start a game for the Capitals this season and gave Ovechkin the team lead in goals.
"You can't lose the draw that clean," Buffalo interim coach Ron Rolston said. "Secondly, we just didn't have the execution we needed to have in place on that play."
The Sabres answered just 12 seconds into the second period when Cody Hodgson threaded his 11th goal of the season through the legs of rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy and goaltender Braden Holtby.
That's when the Capitals turned their desperation into goal scoring.
With Steve Ott in the box for holding, Brouwer gave the Caps a 2-1 lead at the 5:06 mark with his 10th of the season and fifth on the power play.
Brouwer parked himself in the high slot and took a nice feed from Mike Ribeiro, who picked up his 20th assist of the season.
The power play goal was the 23rd of the season for the Caps, who entered the game ranked third in the NHL with a 24.4 percent efficiency.
Chimera made it 3-1 at the 9:45 mark when he scored his first goal of the season and ended the longest goal drought of his career at 27 games.
Chimera, who scored a career-high 20 goals last season, cruised into the slot and fired a pass from Brouwer into the left side of the net, kicking off a huge celebration on the Capitals bench.
"I had tons of chances and it felt like goalies were making world-class saves against me," Chimera said of his 27-game goal drought. "It's a good feeling but the win is more important right now."
Just 43 seconds later the cheering continued when Johansson scored his third goal of the season on a scramble in front of Miller, who was lying on his stomach outside of the crease when Johansson jammed it into the net.
The Sabres climbed back into the game at the 13:27 mark when Brian Flynn took a pass from Mike Foligno and beat Holtby, who was looking the other way for the loose puck.
And when Chimera took a slashing minor against Tyler Myers the Sabres made it a one-goal game with 14:30 to play on Hodgson's second goal of the game and 12th of the season. Tyler Ennis banked a shot off Holtby's right pad and onto the stick of Hodgson.
The Caps killed off a roughing minor to Oleksy before Perreault sealed the game with 4:55 remaining.
NOTES: Both teams were playing in the second half of back-to-back games. The Sabres were coming off a home 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators, while the Capitals were trying to rebound from a 4-1 loss to the Bruins in Boston. The Capitals begin a four-game road trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Seven of their next eight games are on the road, where they are 4-8-1 this season. The Sabres conclude their two-game road trip in Montreal on Tuesday night. They are in the midst of playing four of five on the road. ... The Capitals were without forwards Brooks Laich (groin) and Mike Green (groin) but both are expected to return to the lineup during the club's four-game road trip. Forwards Wojtek Wolski and Aaron Volpatti were healthy scratches for the Capitals. ... The Sabres are now 0-7-0 when trailing after the first period. Three of the players on the ice Sunday night share the same birthday of Oct. 6 -- Buffalo forwards Ville Leino and Tyler Ennis and Washington forward Marcus Johansson.