With the game clock dwindling, 10 seconds turning to five and five quickly turning to the closing moments of the first period, Evgeny Kuznetsov burst out of the penalty box, down the left wing and into the path of a bouncing puck.
He swiped at it, slotting a shot past a recovering Sergei Bobrovsky, whose recovery was not quite fast enough, and it reached the back of the net with 1.4 seconds left in the period. The sequence encapsulated the Capitals’ night. Every setback — a penalty, a turnover, two game-tying goals from the Columbus Blue Jackets — was met by a play that set them straight. And when all those plays were added up, the hosts left Capital One Arena with a 4-2 victory Friday night.
The Kuznetsov score gave the Capitals (32-17-5) a one-goal lead heading into the second period, and he finished with a goal and an assist, each coming in the first period. The center has two goals and seven assists in the Capitals’ past six games. The Capitals also got a game-winning score from Jay Beagle, the 50th goal of his 446-game career; a goal and an assist from Lars Eller; and 35 saves from Bradey Holtby in their second win over the Blue Jackets (27-23-4) this week.
The Blue Jackets registered 37 shots on goal to the Capitals’ 17, but the Capitals finished more chances and limited the Blue Jackets’ shot-happy offense in the final 39 minutes.
“It tells about the depth we have on the team,” Eller said. “When guys like [Nicklas Backstrom] and [Alex Ovechkin] are not scoring, we can still win games and we can still score four goals or whatever. That just speaks to how deep this team is.”
The game offered the Capitals two connected opportunities: the tough task of beating the same team back to back, and the chance to grow their lead atop the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets are swimming along the cusp of contention in the division, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers in closer striking distance of the Capitals.
The Capitals, who will not play a division opponent until they face the Blue Jackets again Feb. 26, struck first Friday when John Carlson scored just 5:09 into the first period. The Capitals made themselves comfortable in the Blue Jackets’ zone in the opening minutes, and Kuznetsov danced around the right side of the ice before feeding the puck to Carlson on the back post. That marked just the second time in 12 contests that the Capitals scored first, and it came on the Capitals’ first shot on goal of the game.
The Blue Jackets had a quick answer on a goal from Pierre Luc-Dubois just 79 seconds later, but Kuznetsov reestablished the Capitals’ lead at the tail end of the first. Kuznetsov was called for interference, his 20th penalty of the season, with just over two minutes left in the period. That triggered a groan from the home crowd, but he soon lifted those fans onto their feet when he dashed out of the box, snuck down the left side of the ice and whacked that bouncing puck past Bobrovsky.
“It feels unbelievable,” Kuznetsov said of scoring right after taking a penalty. “You know, like I get so many penalties this year, and most of them are my bad. This time, you know, it was seven seconds, and I saw [Matt Niskanen] skate with the puck, and I wanted the puck so bad, and every time you get penalty you want to do something good since you get out of the box.
“That one, like I said, it really was a lucky bounce.”
The Blue Jackets had another quick answer, this one from Artemi Panarin just 27 seconds into the second period. Beagle nudged the Capitals back ahead by collecting a rebound in front and flicking it past Bobrovsky, and it then became a matter of how long that lead would last.
But instead of simply protecting their cushion, the Capitals padded it. A power play right after the Beagle goal led to an odd-man rush for the Capitals, and Eller drifted down the right wing with the puck on his stick. Eller looked across the zone as if he could pass to either teammate to his left, then beat Bobrovsky with a near-post wrist shot for his 11th goal.
After twice erasing a one-goal lead, the Blue Jackets had no luck cutting into the two-goal deficit as the second period turned into the third, and the third period gave way to another Capitals win.
“We did what we wanted to do against Bobrovsky,” Washington Coach Barry Trotz said of winning in spite of the lopsided shots on goal totals. “The special teams were good, we had some big performances from different guys and lots of commitment, and it’s a big swing in the last two games.”