When the Blue Jackets visit Verizon Center on Thursday night, the Capitals will have the chance to accomplish a couple of things: they can open a little breathing room between themselves and Columbus and they can tie the franchise record for most home wins in a season.
“As I just said to the guys, games like tonight, if you’re a coach or a hockey player, that’s what you play for,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the morning skate, “to get games where there’s a lot of meaning. We’ve prepared all year for this, so let’s get at it.”
Entering Thursday’s games, the Caps had 102 points, the Penguins owned 101 and Jackets checked in with 100. So a win, obviously, would give the Caps a four-point edge on Sergei Bobrovsky and Co. with nine games remaining for both clubs.
Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus are 1-2-3 in the league standings, as well.
“It’s not that much distance,” defenseman Brooks Orpik cracked, asked about possibly opening a four-point advantage on the Jackets, who lost to the Maple Leafs, 5-2, on Wednesday night.
Orpik added: “But, yeah, it’s a little bit of distance against them. We know they played last night and had a pretty physical game against Toronto. So hopefully that works to our advantage. Hopefully we’re smart and make them go 200-feet for their chances tonight.”
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The game marks the fourth of five meetings between Washington and Columbus this season. The Caps won the last meeting, a win-streak-snapping 5-0 decision on F Street back on Jan. 5. The Jackets, however, won the first two meetings—a 2-1 overtime triumph on Nov. 15 and a controversial 3-2 win five days later.
The teams close out their season series in Columbus on April 2.
“Anytime you’re that close in the standings and you’re in the same division, it’s a big game and you can kinda distance yourself,” winger Tom Wilson said. “But they’re a good team. They’re going to be coming hard and they’ve beat us twice this year already, so that’s in our minds.”
To get two points, though, the Caps are going to need to solve Bobrovsky, who leads the NHL in goals against average (2.04), save percentage (.931) and wins (39).
“I think he’s a top 2 or top 3 goalie in the league, in my opinion,” Alex Ovechkin said of the fellow Russian. “When he’s on his game, it’s very hard to score. He controls the game well. He likes the big moments. He likes the pressure.”
Goals won’t come easily. And neither will a ‘W’. But if the Caps earn one, they’ll also tie the franchise record for wins in a season with their 30th. None of the wins have come in the shootout. The last time they won 30 games without the benefit of a shootout victory? Way back in 1985-86. Washington also won 30 games at Verizon Center in 2009-10, but that mark included four wins in the shootout.
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