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Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets handle Ovechkin, Capitals

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have been saying all season that once they got healthy they would be a good hockey team.

They are not yet 100 percent because forward Marian Gaborik's return from a broken collarbone is uncertain, but gaining forward Nathan Horton and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky from the injured reserve list this month has made a world of difference.

Bobrovsky was stellar again Friday, turning aside 26 shots, including a dynamic duel with Russian Olympic teammate Alexander Ovechkin; Horton had an assist on a timely score early in the third period by Mark Letestu; and the Blue Jackets rolled to a 5-1 win against the Washington Capitals, their fifth straight.

Columbus is 6-1-0 since Horton made his Blue Jackets debut Jan. 2 after missing the first 40 games because of offseason surgery on his left shoulder. His presence has added to the team's ability to not only roll four lines but get production from each of them.

"When we're at our best all four lines are buzzing and creating chances," said Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson, who scored twice. "Our power play was hot. [Bobrovsky] was good for us. Our [penalty kill] was strong. If you win the special teams, you're more likely going to win the game."

Horton has two goals and three assists; the most recent set up Letestu for a power-play goal 68 seconds into the third period to make it 4-1. Letestu went 39 games without a goal after scoring in the second game of the season but now has goals in three straight and five in six.

Atkinson followed with his 15th goal at 4:24, three seconds after the conclusion of a power play, when he fired from the high slot through traffic.

"I just wanted to turn and shoot as quick as possible," he said. "[Matt] Calvert made a great screen. That's the only reason it went in the back of the net."

Columbus took a 2-0 lead in the first period on a power-play goal by defenseman James Wisniewski and an Atkinson score. It made it 3-0 early in the second when Ryan Johansen scored at 1:44. The Capitals at that point replaced goalie Philipp Grubauer with Braden Holtby.

The goal for Washington came at 8:44 of the second off the stick of defenseman John Carlson.

"It's very frustrating because they're obviously a very good team," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "They're going to have their moments in a game. But you can't let a game get away and be that easy. You can't. It's just not right."

While the Blue Jackets (23-20-4) are surging, the Capitals (22-18-8) are 0-2-2 in the past four games and have won four times in 15 games (4-6-5).

"It's a bad hockey game," Capitals center Brooks Laich said. "You want the glory when you win. You face the music, face the blame when you lose. We were all bad tonight. Individually, collectively, we played a bad hockey game.

"The worst thing we can do is pull away from our identity. We have to stick together."

It wasn't the way Laich wanted to celebrate his 600th NHL game, 599 with the Capitals after debuting with the Ottawa Senators.

On the other hand, it was a good 300th NHL game behind the bench for Columbus coach Todd Richards. He is 142-129-29 with Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. He is 65-58-13 with Columbus.

The key juncture was Columbus killing consecutive Washington power plays late in the second period to preserve a 3-1 lead. Bobrovsky, winner of six straight games dating to Nov. 29, did his part a minute into a goaltender inference call against Columbus left wing Boone Jenner.

Ovechkin found himself alone in front of Bobrovsky and dangled the puck several times but could not get the goalie to commit. He made a glove save against the NHL goals leader who was seeking his 35th of the season.

"That was a huge turning point," Atkinson said. "The crowd was kind of quiet. Then Bob made a great save and the crowd revved us up on the bench. It definitely gave us a lot of momentum."

The save became even bigger when during the same power play the Blue Jackets were called for too many men on the ice to put them down two men for 18 seconds. Bobrovsky denied a wrist shot by Eric Fehr from the left circle, and with four seconds left in the second penalty, Washington defenseman Mike Green was sent off for hooking RJ Umberger.

"When we had to execute we did," Johansen said. "I thought we gained a lot of momentum off of that [kill]."

The Capitals entered tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the best power play in the NHL (24.7 percent). Washington was 0-for-4 Friday.

"Like the rest of our game it was just a little bit off," Carlson said. "It was a bad effort, a letdown from the start. You have to give it to them. They played exactly how we expected them to. They're playing very well now. They are a team that may not have a [Sidney] Crosby but they're working well as unit."

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