Blue Jackets just going about their business, as winning streak approaches NHL record

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Coach John Tortorella hates talking about it, but the Blue Jackets’ improbable 16-game winning streak has Columbus and the NHL buzzing.

A win on Thursday night in Washington will tie Columbus with the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr for the longest streak in league history. The team’s surprising success and the streak have given long-suffering Blue Jackets fans much to cheer about lately. Just don’t ask Torts about it.

“I just want us to keep our heads down, and I just want us to play,” he said after Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Edmonton. “You know what we are? We’re a group of businessmen, as far as I’m concerned.”

Columbus hasn’t lost since a 2-1 setback at Florida on Nov. 26. The Blue Jackets won all 14 games in December and their 27-5-4 record is the NHL’s best. Boasting the league’s best power-play unit, they sit atop the rugged Metropolitan Division with reigning NHL champs Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers trailing.

“As soon as our game was over (Tuesday) night, guys were checking to see if they won or not. We had it on,” said Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik, who will try to slow down the surging Blue Jackets on Thursday. “If anyone says they weren’t (paying attention) they’re lying because we had it on in the change room.”

What’s even more astounding is that Blue Jackets were among the league’s dregs last season, finishing 34-40-8. Without any blockbuster trades or big name free-agent signings in the offseason, expectations for the 2016-17 bunch were fairly low.

But a mixture of experience and youth – outstanding first-line defenders Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are 19 and 22, respectively – along with terrific goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has lifted the Blue Jackets to unprecedented heights and has them eyeing the Stanley Cup playoffs for just the third time in the 16-year history of the franchise.

Tortorella preaches never getting too up or too down about anything that happens. Captain Nick Foligno said there hasn’t been much talk about the streak in the Blue Jackets locker room.

“As you get closer, I think that’s when you start to taste it a little bit more, understand it a little bit more,” he said. “But for us, it’s just knowing how we’re going to go about our business. That’s what I’m so proud of. It’s easy to get your eye off the goal when you’re going through something like this. But for us the goal isn’t the streak, it’s what’s coming ahead and what’s coming down the road.”

Cam Atkinson leads the team with 18 goals and 38 points through 36 games and scored the opening tally against Edmonton on Tuesday.

“I think we’re just rolling,” he said. “I personally don’t think about (the streak), other guys might. Obviously, it’s really cool if you think about it, but right now we’re just focusing on trying to get (another) two points.”

Read more: ‘Going to be a fun moment’ ending Columbus’ streak, says Burakovsky

But a lot of other people are talking about it, including Scotty Bowman, who was coach of the 1992-93 Pittsburgh team that won 17 straight. Bowman, now a senior adviser to the Chicago Blackhawks, said the Blue Jackets’ string of wins is “unbelievable” considering the parity in today’s game.

“They’ve got a lot of things going for them, a heck of a power play, and they’ve got a goaltender that’s helped,” Bowman said.

The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers own a record 35-game unbeaten streak that will almost certainly never be matched because they played when overtime didn’t exist in the regular season. The Flyers won 25 games and tied 10 more from Oct. 16, 1979, until Jan. 6, 1980.

For now, the Blue Jackets are just looking ahead to the Capitals. And after Tuesday’s win in front a vocal near-sellout crowd, even the irascible Tortorella was in a decent mood.

“Everything feels good right now,” he said.

Related: The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.