Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov figured there was no one at Capital One Arena on Saturday night who expected him to shoot when John Carlson pushed a puck in his direction, a perfect one-timer setup. He hadn’t scored in 17 games, a fact that crossed his mind in that moment.
“I remembered I did not score for so many games, and to get a goal, you’ve got to shoot, especially when guys don’t expect it,” Kuznetsov said.
His slap shot was Washington’s lone goal of the game, tying it with 1:06 left in regulation to force overtime. It was an occasion worthy of his signature celebration, “the bird,” and Kuznetsov happened to be flapping his wings directly in front of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ bench. Then, with the Blue Jackets on a power play 3:30 into overtime, Artemi Panarin’s one-timer from the left faceoff circle delivered the Blue Jackets a 2-1 win over the Capitals. Columbus players mocked Kuznetsov in their on-ice celebration, several of them moving their outstretched arms up and down just as he had minutes earlier.
Kuznetsov jabbed back after the game; the Blue Jackets may have won this meeting, but the Capitals still can claim they beat them in a first-round playoff series last season en route to a Stanley Cup.
“That’s fine,” he said. “It’s nice to get some people that think about me, same as in April last year.”
What had been a relatively dull game between two of the Metropolitan Division’s top teams had a dramatic finish fitting for a budding rivalry. The Capitals were disappointed they couldn’t get into a rhythm and were ultimately pleased they got out of the matchup with one standings point, still four points ahead of the Blue Jackets and three clear of the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins, who played later Saturday night.
“We didn’t play our best,” forward Brett Connolly said. “They were the better team for most of the night, and we stuck with it and got a point. But it just wasn’t our night. We weren’t making plays. . . . For whatever reason, it wasn’t clicking for us tonight, and we found a way to get a point. We’ll take the positives and move on, and that’s all we can really do.”
This game might be remembered as much for who had to leave the ice as anything that happened on it. Captain Alex Ovechkin missed the last eight minutes of the first period for a cut on his hand that needed stitches. He returned in the second period, but then goaltender Braden Holtby was clipped in the left eye by the blade of Cam Atkinson’s stick and was forced to leave the game. Backup Pheonix Copley replaced him in net, and Coach Todd Reirden said after the game that Holtby is continuing to be evaluated. Copley made 10 saves, beaten on the only shot the Blue Jackets had in overtime.
As Holtby was leaving the game and Copley was entering, Holtby told his understudy “good luck” and said he hoped to come back into the game shortly. Reirden said the team’s medical staff later made the determination that he wouldn’t be able to return.
“That’s scary,” Copley said. “It is scary to see that, especially as a goalie. You’re not really expecting it because you have the full cage on. I just hope for the best that everything is okay.”
Said Atkinson: “That’s the last thing I want is to hurt anyone, so I was just trying to get in front of the net and got tangled up. . . . I had no idea where his head was, and obviously I would never, ever try to do that.”
Meanwhile, Columbus’s Joonas Korpisalo was awarded this start after some drama in the Blue Jackets’ locker room this past week. Top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was suspended by the team for the previous game for an undisclosed incident, and Coach John Tortorella said Korpisalo got the start Saturday because he had played well and deserved it. He had racked up 31 saves before Kuznetsov tied the game.
The Blue Jackets were still the last to celebrate — and in a fashion that Washington isn’t likely to forget.
“I didn’t see it, but I’m assuming that’s a little bit bitter,” forward Tom Wilson said. “I’ll leave it at that. I think they can remember what happened, we can remember what happened, and it’s a rivalry now. A team knocks you out, you’re not going to be happy about it. So we’re going to keep going, and I’m sure there will be a few more down the road where you’ll see a little animosity.”
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