The Caps raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first 30 minutes, then held on for a 3-2 win to push the Blue Jackets into third place in the Division, six points behind the Caps and one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated the Carolina Hurricanes earlier in the day.
After a scoreless first period, T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board in the second minute of the second period. Oshie ran down a long cross-ice pass from Nicklas Backstrom, took the puck off the right wing wall, cut against the grain behind two Columbus defenders, and snapped a backhand past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky just 72 seconds into the period to make it 1-0.
Less than two minutes later, the Caps doubled their lead. Kevin Shattenkirk go the play started by feeding Lars Eller in the neutral zone. Eller circled to his right to gain the offensive zone, then carried the puck around the back of the net. From there, Eller spun and found Andre Burakovsky filling in behind him. Burakovsky sniped a shot over Bobrovsky’s left shoulder, just inside the post and under the crossbar to make it 2-0, 2:56 into the period.
Washington made it 3-0 mid-way through the period when Burakovsky intercepted a Jack John son pass just inside the Caps’ blue line, then took off in the other direction with Matt Niskanen on his left. After crossing the Columbus blue line, he eased off, then floated a pass between Johnson and Sam Gagner to Niskanen cutting to the net. Niskanen snapped a shot that beat Bobrovsky on the glove side, and it was 3-0 Caps at the 10:05 mark.
The Caps took that 3-0 lead into the third period and almost gave it all away. Columbus got one back in the tenth minute of the period when Johnson took a pass from Alexander Wennberg as he was exiting the defensive zone, skated around John Carlson at the Caps’ blue line, did the same to Tom Wilson in deep, and beat goalie Braden Holtby at the 9:22 mark to make it a 3-1 game.
Kyle Quincey got Columbus within a goal six minutes later, capitalizing on heavy pressure in the Caps’ end. Keeping the Caps pinned in, Brandon Saad circled out through the left wing circle and fed Quincey at the left point. Quincey’s floater through a maze of players hit nothing until it found the back of the net at 15:33 of the period to make it 3-2.
Braden Holtby stood tall in net after that, staving off a late Columbus flurry in front of his net to secure the 3-2 win and strengthen the grip the Caps have on the top spot in the division and league standings.
-- At one point, when the Caps had a 3-0 lead, 15 different Columbus skaters were minus-1. Only Brandon Saad (who finished plus-2), Josh Anderson, and Boone Jenner missed out on that fun among the 18 skaters.
-- Beating trends… Columbus came into the game with a 30-6-2 record this season when Alexander Wennberg had a point and had not lost a game in regulation when Jack Johnson scored a goal (3-0-1). Well, that’s now 30-7-2, and 3-1-1.
-- Andre Burakovsky had a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game he had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on January 26th. He went 13 games and a hand injury without one.
-- It was quite a jump start for Burakovsky, who skated just four shifts and 3:02 in the first period without a single mark in any category on his line of the score sheet.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had perhaps his most out-of-character game of the season. He had one shot on goal (his only shot attempt) and no points. But he did have five credited hits to lead the team and won nine of 12 faceoffs (he came into the game winning 43.4 percent of his draws).
-- As a group, the Caps won 34 of 54 faceoffs (63.0 percent). No Caps taking more than one faceoff was under 50 percent. Losing three of the last four draws they took in the last 1:01 made things a bit more interesting than they had to be.
-- Alex Ovechkin skated just 15:27, his lowest amount of ice time since he skated 14:54 in a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks on February 11th.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had an assist. That makes helpers in seven of his last 11 games, over which he is 2-15-17, plus-2.
-- Braden Holtby held the Blue Jackets to two goals on 37 shots faced. It was the first time in six road games that he allowed fewer than three goals and his heaviest shot volume on the road this season since he faced 45 shots in Winnipeg in a 3-2 win last November 1st.
-- Columbus won the possession battle, out-attempting the Caps, 57-41 at 5-on-5 (58.16 percent Corsi-for), and outshooting the Caps, 30-26 at fives (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
Imagine seven games in a playoff series like this. It would be grueling for the players, no doubt, but thrilling for fans of both teams (although we’d prefer to see a four sleeper game series in which the Caps stomp the Blue Jackets). This might be thought of as “Game 0” of that potential playoff matchup. It had that kind of close-quarter, nasty edge feel to it. That the Caps could go into Columbus and take the crowd out of the game for 40 minutes and take advantage of opportunities, then grind out a win against a hard-charging team late speaks well for their readiness for that environment.