WASHINGTON — Facing one of the NHL's supreme goaltenders in Sergei Bobrovsky, the Washington Capitals were glad to have another in Braden Holtby.
Holtby stopped 32 of 35 shots as the Capitals continued their domination of Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 4-3 victory Saturday night. The Metropolitan Division-leading Blue Jackets overcame a slow start to control much of the play in the second half of back-to-back games, but late second- and early third-period goals by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were enough to help Washington win for the fifth time in its past seven.
"We knew when Holts play like that, it's very hard to score against him," Ovechkin said. "He save us, and he give us two points."
Coach Barry Trotz called Holtby the Capitals' best player in a matchup of the past two Vezina Trophy-winning goalies. Holtby made 16 saves in the third period when Columbus outshot Washington 17-3, including a glove stop on Capitals killer Cam Atkinson with just under four minutes left.
"Braden was the reason we won," Trotz said. "He was the best player on the ice."
Holtby felt for Bobrovsky, who allowed goals to Brett Connolly and Alex Chiasson on two of the first three shots he faced. Bobrovsky settled in to stop the next 16, but the damage was done.
"As any goalie knows, if the first couple shots are scoring chances, they're tough to handle," Holtby said. "That was good on us that we executed that."
Columbus got an even-strength goal from Artemi Panarin and a short-handed goal by Matt Calvert in the second to tie it before Ovechkin scored on the power play with 47.6 seconds left in the period. Ovechkin's 218th power-play goal put him into 10th place on the NHL's career list and his 577th overall tied him with Hall of Famer Mark Recchi for 20th.
Bobrovsky fell to 6-8-4 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in his career against Washington.
"It's not his fault on those goals," said Kuznetsov, who became the 14th Capitals player to score on Bobrovsky since the start of the 2015-16 season. "I feel like we just make the great plays. I believe it's not easy to play against us, every goalie, especially on home ice."
The Blue Jackets certainly didn't make it easy on Bobrovsky, who was given a couple of games off before this one. Leaving Connolly and Chiasson wide open in front and Boone Jenner taking consecutive holding penalties proved costly for Columbus, which had won eight of its past nine.
"Other than the beginning, the first couple of minutes there where we have a couple of blown coverages in the middle of the ice, I thought we showed some resiliency," coach John Tortorella said. "We take two offensive zone penalties back-to-back. Have a bad change on one goal. Those are the things that hurt you in this type of game."
It also hurt the Blue Jackets that after Zach Werenski cut the Capitals' lead to 4-3, Pierre-Luc Dubois clanked a shot off the post in the final two minutes. Panarin might've been able to tap in the rebound but had his stick lifted by Jay Beagle and appeared to raise his stick in the air in celebration thinking the puck was in.
"I'm not sure if he celebrated a little too early or what," Tortorella said.
The Capitals were hardly celebrating after being outshot 35-23 by the Blue Jackets, who grinded out a victory at home against Anaheim on Friday night. But they'll gladly take the points in what was considered something of a measuring-stick game.
"We kind of knew where they were in the standings and where we were," said Connolly, who scored in his return after being a healthy scratch for two games. "That was a good team over there that we just beat. It just proves that we can beat anyone."
NOTES: Trotz said F Chandler Stephenson is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and would be re-evaluated Sunday. Stephenson left the game in the second period after taking a big hit from Seth Jones. ... Calvert returned after missing the past 12 games with an upper-body injury and scored his first short-handed goal of the season. ... Columbus put D Ryan Murray on injured reserve and listed D Markus Nutivaara as day-to-day with upper-body injuries.
Blue Jackets: Host New Jersey on Tuesday night, the first of a home-and-home series between the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division.
Capitals: Continue their five-game homestand Monday night against hot San Jose.
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press