Thursday night's Metropolitan Division heavyweight bout between the Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets probably didn't live up to billing in terms of excitement and goals scored. That's partly because the game featured two of the best goalies in the NHL, partly because the Blue Jackets played a rugged game the night before against Toronto, and partly because the Caps were content to slow-play the Jackets, having faith that they'd be able to wear them down and find a way to prevail in the end.
Washington rallied in the third to overcome a one-goal deficit, it survived overtime, and then it earned a rare 2-1 shootout win over Columbus, a team that entered the game with the best shootout success rate (50%) in the league this season.
Video: Oshie, Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in shootout, 2-1
Thursday's win over the Jackets enables the Caps to maintain their hold on the top spot in the Metropolitan Division on a night when a regulation loss might have suddenly dropped them back to third place in the divisional standings.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped all three shots he saw in the skills competition, and he stopped 29 of 30 during the 65 minutes of hockey that preceded the shootout. Sergei Bobrovsky was even better at the other end of the ice, stopping 44 of the 45 pucks sent on goal in the 65 minutes of hockey, only to be denied his 40th win of the season because Caps' right wing T.J. Oshie beat him for the lone goal of the shootout.
"Bob gave us a chance, and we found our way to steal a point with Bob," says Jackets coach John Tortorella.
Owning an abysmal 1-5 record in the shootout coming into the contest, the Caps put in some extra practice time in that regard earlier this week, and it paid instant dividends on Thursday night.
Video: Trotz talks after a 2-1 SO/win over Columbus
"Holts was really huge," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "And winning in a shootout - which we have not been good at all year - Holts was the guy. And that was great. That extra point might be huge, it might be absolutely huge.
"So, good on the guys. I thought we stayed with the game plan and we stayed hungry all night."
For the first 40 minutes, Holtby and Bobrovsky put on a goaltending clinic, sending the game into the third period still scoreless. Washington had more legs and more jump, and it was in the process of wearing the Jackets down slowly over the game's first two frames.
The Capitals had a trio of power play opportunities in the second period, and they were able to generate some reasonably good looks and chances but were unable to take the lead. Columbus had to be happy to be heading into the third period all even, and the Jackets quickly jumped out to a 1-0 in the first minute of the third period.
Columbus won an offensive zone draw and began to put some heat on Holtby in the Washington end, something it was rarely able to do in the game's first 40 minutes. The Caps dodged a bullet when Brandon Dubinsky's shot rang iron, but it caromed out to Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, who buried it to give Columbus its first goal against the Capitals in more than 100 minutes of playing time between the two teams.
Jones' goal came just 41 seconds into the third period, so the Capitals had the advantage of plenty of time remaining. After killing off a Brooks Orpik minor shortly after the Jones goal, Washington stuck with the plan and was able to get the equalizer on an impressive shift some six minutes after the Jones goal.
Video: CBJ@WSH: Orlov nets scorching slapper through traffic
Justin Williams did the heavy lifting down low to win the puck and to maintain control. He was pursued all the way out to the blueline, but he protected the disc and carefully walked the line without losing the zone. He took a hit to make a play, absorbing a Dubinsky bump while rolling the puck down to Marcus Johansson below the Columbus goal line. Johansson then went low to high, feeding Dmitry Orlov at center point. Orlov wound up and blistered a shot high into the right corner to make it a 1-1 game at 6:39 of the third.
"Stick, that's sort of his deal," says Trotz of Williams. "He's got a lot of shimmy in his game, he's got a lot of deception. And he made a terrific play. He made a couple of good plays even before that goal to keep that puck alive down in that corner, and he was able to second-effort it to the next level. Then he made a great play, and we started getting people to the net there. Orly bombed it."
Video: Caps talk after shootout victory over Columbus
"We had a good momentum shift, and Jojo makes a nice play," says Orlov. "I had a lot of time to see where I could shoot. And there was traffic at the net, too. The goalie could not see it, and I hit the net and I scored."
On Russian Heritage Night at Verizon Center, it was somehow fitting that Orlov would beat fellow Russian Bobrovsky, who are close friends away from the arenas.
Washington killed off one more Columbus power play and the two sides headed to overtime, where the Jackets were suddenly the crisper of the two teams. Each team had three shots on net in the extra session, but the Jackets' chances were of higher quality.
Columbus was better in the third and overtime than it was over the first 40 minutes, but Washington owned a whopping 92-51 advantage in shot attempts, and 74-35 at even strength in the game, according to hockeystats.ca.
"I thought it was a better period," says Tortorella of the third, "Still, we score the goal, and our power play just deflates our momentum. That's two nights in a row it really hurts us. They surge; Bob made some good saves. But I thought we played better in the third period.
"Overtime, we had some good chances. But Bob was definitely the difference tonight."
Washington has won three straight and it has taken at least a point in five straight games (4-0-1). With the win over the Jackets, the Caps now lead Pittsburgh by two points and Columbus by three in the Metropolitan Division standings. All three teams have nine games remaining.