Ovechkin’s milestone goal helps Capitals edge Blue Jackets
WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin continues to make his way up the NHL’s all-time leaderboard in several categories, and Saturday, another milestone goal helped spark the Washington Capitals to a critical division triumph.
The 218th power-play goal of Ovechkin’s career couldn’t have come at a better time as the veteran’s tally broke a tie and propelled Washington to a 4-3 victory Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a key Metropolitan Division matchup.
“We get the points and move forward,” Ovechkin said. “Whatever it takes. We’ll take these two points and look forward to the next game. Every team right now is battling hard and every team needs points.”
After Columbus center Boone Jenner took his second holding penalty of the second period, it took Ovechkin only 10 seconds to give the Capitals the lead for good. Picture-perfect passes from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson set up Ovechkin’s blast past Sergei Bobrovsky for a 3-2 advantage with 38 seconds remaining in the frame.
The power-play tally moved Ovechkin into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time list in that category, and the goal marked the 19th of his season and the 577th of his career, which ties him with Mark Recchi for 20th place all-time.
Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 1:08 into the third period to make it 4-2, which turned into a key insurance goal when Columbus’ Zach Werenski scored with 3:02 remaining in the game. Braden Holtby made 32 saves for the Capitals, including stopping a 2-on-0 chance early in the game and a barrage of third-period shots by Columbus.
“Holtby, give him credit — he made some unbelievable saves tonight,” Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said. “If there’s somebody else in net, maybe it’s a different story.”
Bobrovsky made 19 saves for Columbus, but one of the NHL’s top netminders dropped to a pedestrian 6-8-4 in 19 career games against Washington.
“Obviously, he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now,” Ovechkin said. “It’s hard to score against those guys. But we did it.”
Down 2-0, the Blue Jackets rallied in the second period to draw even. Columbus took advantage of a terrible shift by Washington, as the Capitals failed to get the puck out of their zone and gave the Blue Jackets several good looks at the net.
Artemi Panarin finally benefitted from the sloppy play, capitalizing on a Washington turnover to beat Holtby and put Columbus on the board at the 3:51 mark of the second.
“I liked the way we kept coming back,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “We kept grinding away.”
Jenner’s first holding penalty of the period didn’t hurt his squad, as the Blue Jackets once again exploited sloppy puck work by the Capitals. Defenseman Matt Calvert, fresh off injured reserve, corralled a giveaway in Washington’s zone and snapped a shot past a stunned Holtby to draw the Blue Jackets even at 2-2 with 3:32 left in the second.
“Against a good team, you have to weather the storm sometimes,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We didn’t do a good job in second period weathering it. They kept coming. I give them a lot of credit. They battled right to the end. They got a push, but we were able to hang on.”
The Capitals jumped on the Blue Jackets right out of the gate, perhaps taking advantage of Columbus’ tired legs in a back-to-back scenario. Brett Connolly, inserted back into the lineup after missing two games as a healthy scratch, took a great feed from Lars Eller and beat Bobrovsky just 63 seconds into the game for a 1-0 Washington advantage.
Just 63 seconds later, the Capitals scored again, as a deflection off Werenski’s skate went right to Capitals right winger Alex Chiasson, who blasted a shot past Bobrovsky to make the advantage 2-0 before many people had settled into their seats.
“They play hard here and feed off their crowd,” Foligno said. “That’s how they play. They come at you really hard and try to dictate the play. We allowed them to for a bit.”
Washington is now 8-1-2 in its last 11 games against Columbus.
NOTES: Columbus activated D Matt Calvert (upper body) off injured reserve and placed D Ryan Murray (upper body) on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 27. ... The Capitals’ scratches were C Tyler Graovac and D Taylor Chorney. ... Columbus D Markus Nutivaara was out of the lineup and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. C Tyler Motte and LW Markus Hannikainen were the team’s scratches. ... Capitals C Chandler Stephenson left the game with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day.