Don't look now, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have won five games in a row and are suddenly right back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
With their 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday, the Blue Jackets now find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot while they still have games in hand on every team ahead of them. For the second year in a row they appear to be ready to make a late second half push. It was a case of too little, too late at the end of 2012-13, but in a weak conference they may have started this year's push early enough to make a difference.
But Columbus' portion of that game was only half of the story. The other half is what in the world happened to the Capitals? After a strong effort in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Washington was never in this game and seemed to get worse. It was so bad that at one point in the third period they were being outshot 13-4 in the frame despite the fact they were down 5-1 at the time. It doesn't usually work that way. Usually the team that's on the losing end is piling up the shots while the winning team sits back.
The Capitals have now lost 11 of their past 17 games.
In the only other game on the schedule, Anaheim had its eight game winning streak snapped in Chicago thanks to a pair of goals from Marian Hossa. Jonas Hiller played great for Anaheim and kept his team in it and gave it a chance to try and crawl back into late despite facing a 34 shots on goal.
Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 1
On Friday we asked you five burning questions about the days games. These are your cool, soothing answers.
1. Will Anaheim run its winning streak to nine games?
They did not, and it was quite the impressive showing by the defending champs to completely dictate the pace of the game against the team with the best record in the league that was also riding an eight-game winning streak and completely blowing teams out. Breaking news: The Blackhawks are really, really good.
2. Can Columbus contain Alex Ovechkin?
The Blue Jackets allowed him to get seven shots on goal, and some of them were pretty decent chances, but they also limited him to no points, which always gives you a chance against the Capitals. Sergei Bobrovsky should get a lot of credit for that, especially for the second-period save he made on a wide open Ovechkin in the slot on the power play. You can't let the most dangerous guy on the ice get that wide open in that spot. Columbus did, but Bobrovsky was there to make the stop.
3. Is three the magic number for Chicago?
Yes, and they needed every one of them. After taking a 3-0 lead early in the third period, the Blackhawks had to hold off a late rally from Anaheim that saw the Ducks pot two goals in less than two minutes to make it a game down the stretch. Marian Hossa added an empty net goal, his second goal of the game, in the final minute to secure the win. It's the 13th time in their past 20 games the Blackhawks have scored at least three goals. Their record in those games is 11-2.
4. Is Nathan Horton the missing piece for Columbus?
Horton, one of the biggest free agent signings of the summer, played just 13 minutes for the Blue Jackets on Friday but did add an assist in their 5-1 win, giving him five points in his first seven games with the team. He missed most of the first half of the season after recovering from offseason surgery and has made a huge difference since returning to the lineup as the team is 6-1-0 with him in there.
5. Is Philipp Grubauer cementing his place over Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth
He didn't do it on Friday as he was pulled after giving up three goals in 21 minutes. It wasn't all his fault as the Capitals were pretty flat overall as a team, but it also wasn't one of his sharpest nights in the crease. He was replaced by Holtby, who went on to surrender two goals on 22 shots. If you were looking for some sort of clarity in the Capitals' goaltending trio you didn't get it in this one.
The one play or moment from Friday that is going to be making headlines over the next couple of days.
Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg had to leave their game against Anaheim after two periods and is listed as "day-to-day" after suffering an undisclosed injury. A key part of their 2010 Stanley Cup winning team, the Blackhawks reacquired Versteeg from the Florida Panthers earlier this season and he's been a welcome addition with seven goals and 10 assists in 30 games with the team. He scored his ninth goal of the season on Friday before exiting.
Stat of the Night
When Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson was sent off for hooking Boone Jenner in the second period on Friday night, it was the first time he had been penalized this season. It was his 48th game of the season. Even more impressive is that in his career (231 games since the start of the 2010-11 season) he has spent just 24 total minutes in the penalty box. That is the second lowest total over that span among players that have appeared in at least 200 games. Jared Spurgeon has spent just 22 minutes in the box over 205 games.
Post to Post
- Where does your favorite team rank in the newest power rankings?
- P.K. Subban's celebration on Thursday night was met with some really pointless outrage.
- The trade market for goalies like Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres is still undefined at this point.
- Understanding the rapid recovery of Tampa Bay Lightning superstar forward Steven Stamkos.