WASHINGTON (AP) -- John Tortorella broke from his usual routine after the Columbus Blue Jackets' streak-breaking clunker on Thursday night.
He felt he had to.
BOX SCORE: CAPITALS 5, BLUE JACKETS 0
Tortorella walked into the visiting locker room and told his players he was proud of them, even after the Jackets lost 5-0 to the Washington Capitals, ending a 16-game winning streak. Columbus fell one victory shy of the NHL record set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins as everything that carried them on this captivating run fell apart.
Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 23 shots, the league-leading power play was held off the scoreboard and Columbus lost for the first time since Nov. 26. Tortorella wasn't happy about the game but wasn't upset about the streak coming to an end, either.
"I usually don't go in the room, win or lose," Tortorella said. "All year long, I haven't been in there, but I'd be remiss, like I told them, if I didn't. That is one hell of a run by a hockey team. They should feel really good about it."
They may at some point, but not right after reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby stopped all 29 shots, giving Columbus its second shutout defeat of the season. Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said it took an effort like Holtby's to upend Columbus.
Bobrovsky, who was rock solid in 14 starts during the streak, was chased and replaced by Curtis McElhinney after allowing goals to Daniel Winnik, John Carlson, Nate Schmidt, Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams.
The Capitals extended their winning streak to four and moved within five points of the Blue Jackets for the top spot in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. They were eager to curb Columbus' run, with Burakovsky saying earlier Thursday, "It's going to be a really fun moment for us to end it." A fan at the game held a sign that read, "Hey Blue Jackets, streaking is not allowed in here."
"I wanted to stop the streak," said Williams, who scored his 10th goal in his past 23 games. "Who wouldn't want to stop a streak? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it, for sure. And we did, pretty good game."
Tortorella conceded that luck was needed during the streak, and his team didn't get the bounces Thursday. Winnik's goal came off a flurry in front, Carlson's went in off his left skate and Schmidt's on his own rebound off Bobrovsky's chest.
Washington's good fortune combined with Holtby's performance to create a blowout reminiscent of when the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers ended their 35-game unbeaten streak with a 7-1 loss at the Minnesota North Stars.
Tortorella said before the game he wanted his club to tie the record but added, "It's not the end of the world if we don't."
When the Blue Jackets didn't, players bought into that mantra as they tried to move past the disappointment of the loss.
"We were hearing our win song after every game," winger Scott Hartnell said. "We talked about it after the game. Obviously, that's a disappointing loss to end it, but it had to come to an end."
Tortorella said he'd measure his club more by how it handled the lull when the streak ended. As Foligno pointed out before the game, this was only contest No. 37 for Columbus, and the Blue Jackets have a long way to go to show they're more than just a team with a memorable midseason run.
"We handled ourselves well throughout it," winger Boone Jenner said. "It's not like anything's ending. It's Game 37 right now and we just got a ways to go and what we want to get to."
NOTES: Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky blamed himself for having one of the worst big-game performances of his career because of a bad turnover that led to Burakovsky's goal. ... Bobrovsky, who had a 1.64 goals-against average and .941 save percentage during the streak, was pulled for just the second time this season. ... Schmidt's goal was his first in 67 games dating to Jan. 7, 2016. ... Williams has 10 goals and eight assists in his past 23 games after starting the season with one and one in his first 15. ... McElhinney stopped all four shots he faced after replacing Bobrovsky in the third period.
Blue Jackets: Try to start a new streak Saturday at home against the New York Rangers, who are only three points back of them.
Capitals: Visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday looking to extend their less-talked-about winning streak to five.
|© Elise Amendola/AP Photo. Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid crashes into Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask in the first period on Jan. 5 in Boston.|
Streak over, Blue Jackets turn attention to staying on top
Even before the Columbus Blue Jackets' winning streak ended, coach John Tortorella wondered what would happen next.
How would a team that hadn't lost in five weeks handle the aftermath?
After giving his players a welcome day off following a clunker of a 5-0 loss to the Washington Capitals that ended the streak at 16, Tortorella will soon find out. The Blue Jackets host the New York Rangers on Saturday and Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday with little margin for error in the stacked Metropolitan Division.
"I think we've crossed that bridge is that we know we're a good hockey club and not one game is going to deter how we feel about ourselves," Tortorella said Thursday night after the loss. "It's an unforgiving league and we've preached it: You can't worry about what just happened. We've got to move by this right away."
Knowing from years of experience that losing reveals more than winning, Tortorella is anxious to see how players respond Saturday against the team he coached for five seasons and in the coming weeks.
"You cannot exhale," Tortorella said. "We have so much hockey to be played. I still don't know who we are. ... We have a long ways to go here to really define who we are."
For the past five weeks, the Blue Jackets were defined by a winning streak that fell one short of the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins' NHL record. Their power play led the league, 2013 Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was on top of his game and there was excitement around a club that missed the playoffs the past two seasons.
Tortorella pulled Bobrovsky after five goals on 23 shots Thursday but had nothing but good things to say about his starter.
"We have climbed on his back from day one," Tortorella said. "He has started his play from the World Cup, you could see where he was mentally after an off year last year. He's a big reason why we go on this run."
Tortorella and his philosophies and evolving coaching style are, too. After replacing Todd Richards early last season, he said the Blue Jackets had to rid themselves of the stench of entitlement and earn his respect.
The streak went a long way toward doing that — and getting Columbus back into the playoffs. But even now, the Blue Jackets lead the Rangers and Stanley Cup champion Penguins by only three points and the Capitals by five in the division.
There's no breathing room to be found.
"We're going to have a lot of divisional games coming up, a lot Eastern Conference games, a lot of four-point nights and I think we're ready for the challenge," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "Really proud of this group and I know this group can handle it, so I'm excited to see where we go from there."
After outscoring opponents 64-27 in 16 consecutive wins, the Blue Jackets were skated out of the building by the Capitals. Bobrovsky wasn't at his best, but Tortorella acknowledged he "stretched" the goalie affectionately known as "Bob" by playing him too much during the streak and would like to balance the playing time more with backup Curtis McElhinney moving forward.
"I can just get back to kind of just looking at our situation with the season and figure out the goaltending situation, which is very important," Tortorella said. "I think it's going to be very important for us — the decisions we make there as we go through the second half of the year."
Troy Loney of the '92-93 Penguins felt the emotional toll of that winning streak late in the season contributed to their second-round postseason exit, and the Blue Jackets should expect at least a lull. The Philadelphia Flyers are 1-5-2 since their 10-game winning streak.
With 45 games left in the season and their focus on the playoffs this spring, Tortorella hopes his players learn from the streak. That process is already underway.
We figured out "how to carry ourselves in pressure situations and also what it feels like to win," captain Nick Foligno said. "You expect to win every time you step on the ice and that's something that hasn't been the case here on this team for a long time. We're building that culture and that identity that we talked about, but it's how we go about our business and how we play the game."
What happens next will be the true defining legacy for the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets
WASHINGTON -- The Columbus Blue Jackets' epic winning streak didn't just come to an end, it fairly exploded into a million tiny pieces that floated gently onto the ice at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.
Bye-bye, 16-game winning streak. Bye-bye, date with history.
But in many ways the story isn't that the Blue Jackets lost for the first time in 17 games and were denied a chance at an NHL-record 18th straight win at home against the New York Rangers on Saturday.
And the story isn't even that the Blue Jackets' 16-game winning streak came to an end in such ignoble fashion, getting waxed by the Washington Capitals 5-0 in a game that was over by the end of the second period.
No. The story is what happens next.
Because even as the streak was building and the Blue Jackets morphed from "Hey, that's kind of weird" into the story of the season, rising from obscurity and irrelevance to the top of the NHL standings, everyone knew they were going to lose at some point.
No one expected them to win 61 straight games, right?
But having lost in such staggering fashion against Washington, the Blue Jackets remain the story of the league because how they respond to this loss and how they move forward from the end of the streak will tell us almost as much as what we learned about them during the streak.
This has been a season of streaking teams.
When Columbus beat the Minnesota Wild on New Year's Eve, it stopped Minnesota's 12-game winning streak.
How the Wild respond moving forward will, likewise, help define their season.
You know Minnesota head coach Bruce Boudreau, and now his counterpart in Columbus, John Tortorella, will be making sure their players are well aware of what has befallen the Philadelphia Flyers.
Another darling of the first half of the NHL schedule, Philadelphia reeled off 10 wins in a row.
What has happened since is a cautionary tale.
Since seeing their streak ended, the Flyers have managed to win only once in eight games. They're 1-5-2 over that stretch and have now fallen back toward the bottom of the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference.
In short, the Flyers are in a free fall.
But the Columbus Blue Jackets don't appear to be the Philadelphia Flyers.
Their goaltending has been peerless with Sergei Bobrovsky, who'd won 14 straight games before getting yanked 5 minutes, 36 seconds into the third period after giving up five goals on 23 shots Thursday, regaining the form that saw him win a Vezina Trophy in 2013.
The defense is young and mobile.
The forward group is, taking a page from the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, four lines deep and chockablock with speed and skill.
They boast the league's top power play and, although one can't expect them to continue to roll at 28 percent efficiency, there's no reason for them not to finish in the top five in power-play efficiency.
So, it's clear the tools are there to stay on the rails.
Where the big test will come is between the ears.
How much of a letdown will there be with Thursday's loss?
Columbus players spoke about how they had tried to embrace the streak, enjoy it, but not get overwhelmed by it.
Now the Jackets have to prove they won't be overwhelmed by having the streak come to an end, not be rocked by returning to mortality.
Why do I think they'll be just fine?
Because there's no way Tortorella will let them sag, at least not for any meaningful amount of time.
A man who began the season with his reputation battered by last year's performance coupled with a disastrous 0-3 turn as head coach of the winless Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey has become the favorite at the midpoint of the season to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
He was at times testy during the streak, as though understanding the kind of burden this kind of (almost) unprecedented success might become.
If there is one coach who will be able to shake his players back into form, it would seem Tortorella is that kind of guy.
"I trust the team," a surprisingly upbeat Tortorella said after the loss. "I think they've been honest with their play. I just trust the team. I think they have a dynamic in that room, and we talked about this: Don't hope you're going to win, know you're going to win. And I think we've crossed that bridge, ... that we know we're a good hockey club. Not one game is going to deter how we feel about ourselves.
"We've preached it, you can't worry about what just happened. We've got to move by this right away. We'll leave them alone tomorrow and we'll get ready for New York." The coach was referring to Saturday's home date against one of his former teams, the Rangers.
And then there's this. Getting whipped by the Capitals in the fashion they did might in fact be a better way to see the streak end than if the Blue Jackets had fallen in a one-goal game. They're ticked off.
And maybe that's not such a bad thing for a team determined to keep looking forward, and not back.