COLUMBUS, Ohio – Suddenly, the Columbus Blue Jackets are working themselves into playoff contention.
Cam Atkinson scored two goals and Sergei Bobrovsky continued his hot streak to lead the Blue Jackets past the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Friday night for their fifth straight victory.
“When we’re at our best, all four lines are definitely buzzing and creating some chances,” Atkinson said after scoring goals No. 14 and 15. “Then the power play was good, Bob was hot and our penalty kill was strong.”
The Blue Jackets, 19th in the league on the power play coming in, were 2 for 4 with a man advantage.
Bobrovsky made 26 saves, including some stout ones when the outcome was still in doubt. And Columbus’ penalty kill held the NHL’s best power-play unit scoreless in four attempts.
The Blue Jackets moved to two points out of playoff position with at least one game in hand on every team in front of them in the Metropolitan Division and wild-card playoff races.
They’re also two points back of the Capitals, who have lost four in a row and 11 of 15.
“This was a bad effort by us,” said John Carlson, who scored the Capitals’ lone goal. “But you’ve got to give it to them. They played exactly how we expected. They’re playing well right now. They’re a team that doesn’t have a (Sidney) Crosby, but they all work as a unit, force a lot of turnovers and they made that happen.”
Ryan Johansen added a goal and assist, James Wisniewski had a goal, Mark Letestu scored for the fifth time in six games and Jack Johnson had two assists for the Blue Jackets, who had lost their past five meetings with Washington.
“We can compete with anybody in the league,” Johansen said. “We’ve had a couple of hiccups this year, although every team goes through that.”
Bobrovsky came in 5-0-0 with a 1.45 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage in his past five starts. He stood tall to frustrate the Capitals when the game was still up for grabs.
At 12:08 of the first, Wisniewski one-timed a hard drive from the point that climbed over Philipp Grubauer’s glove. It was Wisniewski’s first power-play goal and fourth tally of the season.
In the final minute, the Blue Jackets crowded the nets and benefited.
Matt Calvert got two whacks at the puck from the crease, Grubauer deflecting each. Defenceman Dmitry Orlov then whiffed on an attempt to clear the puck, with Atkinson hopping on it to lift the puck into the net over a diving Grubauer.
The Blue Jackets stretched it to 3-0 at 1:44 of the second. R.J. Umberger carried the puck through the neutral zone and then pulled up in the right corner, sending a pass to the high slot for Johansen. He slid laterally, waiting for an opening, before wristing a shot for his team-high 18th of the season.
Grubauer was pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots, replaced by Braden Holtby.
The Blue Jackets killed off two Washington power plays late in the second period, including 18 seconds when the Capitals had a 5 on 3 advantage.
Bobrovsky was at his best then. He twice stymied Russian Olympic teammate Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading scorer with 34 goals, on power-play shots—once on a one-timer from the left dot and a second time when the Columbus defence broke down and the three-time goal-scoring champ was all alone on a shot that Bobrovsky deflected wide off his catcher.
Two quick goals to open the third period put the game out of reach.
“The biggest frustration is we weren’t mentally ready,” Washington coach Adam Oates said. “You make mental mistakes, you get in trouble. You can’t let a game get away and be that easy.”
It was Columbus’ Todd Richards’ 300th game as an NHL head coach. He was asked what he thought the next 300 will be like.
“What would be great, at 600 you can ask me that question,” he said, laughing.
Notes: Washington C Brooks Laich played in his 600th NHL game. … The Blue Jackets had been off since Monday, while the Capitals were playing their third game in four days. … Columbus had a pair of five-game win streaks in last year’s shortened season.
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