Cap­i­tals may have new ri­val in Blue Jack­ets

An­i­mos­ity brews be­tween teams

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY ADAM ZIELONKA

Satur­day’s game be­tween the Washington Cap­i­tals and Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets crawled by. Colum­bus led 1-0 for al­most the en­tirety of reg­u­la­tion, un­til the Cap­i­tals pulled their goalie for an ex­tra skater and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored late to force over­time.

Kuznetsov cel­e­brated his first goal since Dec. 2 the same way he al­ways cel­e­brates — he lifted one leg and flapped his arms like a bird’s wings, which some have taken to call­ing his “bird dance.”

The Blue Jack­ets def­i­nitely took no­tice.

Af­ter Artemi Pa­narin scored the over­time win­ner for Colum­bus, a clus­ter of Blue Jack­ets cel­e­brated the win by mim­ick­ing Kuznetsov’s bird dance on Washington’s home ice.

The Cap­i­tals weren’t of­fended by the Blue Jack­ets’ cel­e­bra­tion af­ter the game — just a lit­tle salty. Kuznetsov and Tom Wil­son both re­ferred back to the 2018 Stan­ley Cup Play­offs, when Washington came back from down 2-0 to beat Colum­bus in the first round.

“That’s fine, you know? It’s nice to get some peo­ple to think about me,” Kuznetsov said. “Same as like in April last year, you know?”

“I think they can re­mem­ber what hap­pened. We can re­mem­ber what hap­pened,” Wil­son said. “It’s a ri­valry now. A team knocks you out, you’re not gonna

be happy about it. We’re gonna keep go­ing and I’m sure there will be a few more down the road where you’ll see a lit­tle more an­i­mos­ity.”

Do the Cap­i­tals re­ally have a new Ohio-based ri­val? It cer­tainly doesn’t rise to the level of Cap­i­tals-Pen­guins in terms of ei­ther his­tory or just plain ha­tred.

But Washington can’t sleep on the Blue Jack­ets, who are third place in the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Di­vi­sion, just four points be­hind Washington in the stand­ings and mak­ing what might be their last play­off push with their cur­rent ros­ter.

The Jack­ets’ two best play­ers — Pa­narin and goal­tender Sergei Bo­brovsky — are both play­ing the fi­nal year of their re­spec­tive con­tracts. Bo­brovsky is ru­mored to want out of Colum­bus; it didn’t help mat­ters that the team benched him for one game last week as pun­ish­ment for some undis­closed in­ci­dent. Bo­brovsky only said he let his emo­tions get to him af­ter a tough loss.

The Blue Jack­ets are where they are thanks to smart draft­ing and trades over the years. Their top-line cen­ter, Pier­reLuc Dubois, is 20 years old. They have a strong core of young de­fense­men like Seth Jones, Zach Weren­ski and Markus Nu­ti­vaara.

“They’re one of those teams that seem to play that style that can hold you off the score sheet a lit­tle bit,” Wil­son said. “They keep it sim­ple, they get pucks out and get pucks down.”

But they will be a weaker team next year if they lose Pa­narin, Bo­brovsky or both. As a smaller sports mar­ket, Colum­bus is not an easy place to reload in the short term with top free agent tal­ent.

What does that mean for the Cap­i­tals? They can ex­pect the Jack­ets to be des­per­ate to make a deep play­off run this year. And be­ing the team that elim­i­nated Colum­bus nine months ago cer­tainly doesn’t make for a “friendly” ri­val, though Nick Foligno com­pli­mented the Cap­i­tals af­ter Satur­day’s game.

“That’s a good team. We’re al­ways go­ing to be com­pet­ing against them in our di­vi­sion,” the Colum­bus cap­tain said. “I loved our re­solve. I loved the way we found a way to get the job done in over­time.”

A nice ex­tra layer to the bud­ding ri­valry is the in­di­vid­ual com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Kuznetsov and Pa­narin, who grew up in the same town in Rus­sia and went to the same hockey school. Kuznetsov fa­mously said last year that he’d talk to Pa­narin if he saw him, but that “we’re not that close to call­ing (on) FaceTime be­fore (we) sleep.” And now Pa­narin’s team­mates have mocked Kuznetsov’s cel­e­bra­tion.

So is there re­ally a Washington-Colum­bus ri­valry brew­ing? Check back in on Feb. 12, when they meet in Ohio for the last time this reg­u­lar sea­son.

In the mean­time, the Cap­i­tals host the St. Louis Blues on Mon­day night and travel to Nashville to play the Preda­tors Tues­day.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cap­i­tals cen­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov cel­e­brates his game-ty­ing third­pe­riod goal with his “bird dance” on Satur­day. The Blue Jack­ets mim­icked the dance af­ter scor­ing the over­time game-win­ner.

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