As the Washington Capitals prepared to face the hottest team in the league, forward Andre Burakovsky was full of confidence. “Obviously, they’re on a huge winning streak right here, and it’s going be a really good and fun moment for us to end it,” Burakovsky said of the Columbus Blue Jackets, winners of 16 straight entering Thursday’s game
A 17th straight win for the Blue Jackets would have tied an NHL record, a fact that hardly intimidated Washington. The Capitals backed up Burakovsky’s bold comments in a dominant 5-0 win at Verizon Center that halted Columbus’s bid for the record books.
Washington had maintained that the main motivation for this game was gaining ground in the Metropolitan Division; the Blue Jackets entered with a seven-point lead on the Capitals. Preventing Columbus from matching the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for the most consecutive wins was an added bonus.
“I wanted to stop the streak,” Justin Williams said. “Who wouldn’t want to stop a streak? I’m lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it. For sure. We did, and we played a good game.”
Washington borrowed the Blue Jackets’ recent formula for success. Throughout the streak, Columbus thrived with balanced scoring, strong goaltending and occasional puck luck — all elements the Capitals used Thursday night.
The Capitals got two goals from its bottom-six forward corps: Fourth-line winger Daniel Winnik started the scoring on a rebound just 5:06 after the puck dropped, and Burakovsky, a third-liner, made it 4-0 with his goal at the 16:27 mark of the second period. Washington also got secondary scoring from defenseman John Carlson, who had a puck take a fortuitous bounce off his skate, and defenseman Nate Schmidt, who scored his first goal in nearly a full calendar year.
Williams’s third-period goal chased Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who hadn’t allowed five goals in a game in nearly two months. Meanwhile, in his first game after getting benched Tuesday night, goaltender Braden Holtby saved 29 shots to make Washington just the second team to shut out Columbus’s high-powered offense. The Blue Jackets’ top-ranked power play got just four shots on goal in five opportunities, including 1:06 of five-on-three.
“Everybody shared in the victory,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Every line did something that changed the game or had a real positive effect on the game.”
The Capitals extended their own winning streak to five. After plowing through the league in last season’s Presidents’ Trophy campaign, Washington has struggled at times this season, falling under the radar compared with Columbus. Under the brightest spotlight of the season so far, the Capitals looked the part of a team that has quietly found its game in recent weeks. The Capitals are 11-2-2 in their past 15 games.
“I don’t know that we’ve done anything to get any attention, but we’ve just been worrying about ourselves this year,” Trotz said. “We’re just going to sort of build our game, try [to] fix and repair anything that’s broken and improve anything that we feel we can improve. I think just getting better every day. That’s sort of what we talked about.”
The considerable hype for the game started Tuesday night, when Washington’s players kept an eye on the score of Columbus’s game against Edmonton while they were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs. Defenseman Brooks Orpik said the Blue Jackets game was on in Washington’s dressing room, and once the Capitals beat the Maple Leafs, players were asking whether Columbus won.
Before the season, few would have anticipated a midweek game between the Capitals and the Blue Jackets would garner much attention, but the media presence at Verizon Center for Thursday’s game was the largest of the season. Both coaches said this was the kind of game in which no extra motivational speeches were needed.
“It adds a little juice to the game, which I think is good for both teams,” Columbus Coach John Tortorella said before the game. “It’s good for the league because it gets to be a pretty boring league sometimes when the dog days start coming up here with all of the games. I haven’t talked too much about it, but we’re here. I want us to get it.”
But in the final minutes, the fans in Verizon Center proudly chanted, “Kill the streak,” something the Capitals accomplished in style.
“We all knew it was a challenge for us and a little bit of a measurement of where we’re at right now, I think,” forward Nicklas Backstrom said. “Obviously, they’ve been playing good lately. Yeah, they had a nice streak going; that’s all I can say. But we actually played a really good hockey game tonight for 60 minutes.”