The Caps traded blows with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the early going, but two goals in the second period allowed the Caps to take control en route to a 4-2 victory on Friday.
John Carlson drew first blood just over five minutes in, but Columbus responded less than 90 seconds later after a weird bounce off the boards bounced to the front of Braden Holtby and left him helpless against Pierre-Luc Dubois. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 1.4 seconds left in the first, but the Blue Jackets responded again just 27 seconds into the second period.
The game turned later in the second when Jay Beagle restored Washington's lead and Lars Eller extended it less than two minutes later. Columbus would not recover from that two-goal deficit.
Here are the three stars of the game.
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov recorded an early assist as he used some fancy footwork to free himself from Dean Kukan and then fired a backhanded pass to John Carlson who was waiting at the backdoor for the goal.
Kuznetsov then tallied a goal of his own as he beat the buzzer with just 1.4 seconds left in the first period. With time winding down, Kuznetsov came out of the penalty box and made a beeline for the net. A centering pass managed to trickle through the traffic and Kuznetsov fired a one-timer on the open net for the late goal.
He also a drew a penalty early in the second period. Kuznetsov now has recorded at least a point in six-straight games and has 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in his last 12 games.
2. Lars Eller: Eller scored the prettiest goal of the night as he rifled one past Sergei Bobrovsky on the rush. The Blue Jackets tried to strike while shorthanded, but the result was three penalty killers getting caught deep in the Caps' zone. T.J. Oshie launched the counter rush and passed up to Eller in the neutral zone. Eller carried it in on what was a late-developing two-on-one, looked off Bobrovsky with a long look at Oshie, then called his own number and fired it past the handcuffed netminder.
The goal put Washington up by two in what had been a very close game up to that point. Eller would also add an assist on the night on Kuznetsov's goal.
3. Matt Niskanen: Braden Holtby had a strong game for the Caps, but needed help late in the second period with the Caps trying to kill off a late Tom Wilson penalty. A wild flurry broke out in front of the net that left Holtby sprawling high in the crease. When the puck made its way to Nick Foligno, he had an open net to shoot at with Holtby desperately diving to try to stop the puck. Luckily, Niskanen was there as he slid into the crease and kicked out the leg like a veteran netminder to keep the Caps up by 2.
A late goal at the end of the period to pull Columbus within one would have been a big momentum swing and perhaps the turning point of the game. Instead, the Blue Jackets were kept off the board the rest of the night. In addition to his second period save, Niskanen also recorded an assist.