The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to be the biggest story of this NHL season as they are one victory shy of tying the league's single-season winning streak record. Alas, I predict the Jackets to lose on Thursday night at the Washington Capitals.
The last loss for Columbus (27-5-4) was Nov. 26 at Florida, 2-1 in a shootout. Three days later, the Blue Jackets beat the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1 and that changed everything. On Tuesday night, the Jackets took out visiting Edmonton 3-1 for their 16th win in a row. That's obviously a franchise record and one win shy of the NHL record of 17 victories in a row set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins.
That Pens team, led by Mario Lemieux, had won the previous two Stanley Cup titles. Pittsburgh's streak ended in the final game of that regular season in a 6-6 tie against New Jersey. There were no shootouts back then. Pittsburgh was fortunate to even force OT as Joe Mullen scored with 66 seconds left in regulation after the Penguins had pulled goalie Tom Barrasso for a sixth skater. Pittsburgh finished with an NHL-best 119 points but didn't three-peat at Stanley Cup champions, getting upset in the division finals by the New York Islanders.
If you are wondering, three of the Blue Jackets' wins in this streak have gone past regulation: 3-2 in a shootout at Arizona on Dec. 3, 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 18 in Vancouver and 3-2 in a shootout vs. Los Angeles on Dec. 20.
Columbus, which had the fourth-worst record in the NHL last year, leads the NHL with 58 points and with a plus-52 goal differential. It is now the +700 favorite on Bovada NHL odds to win the Stanley Cup and +350 to win the Eastern Conference.
The star of the winning streak is goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He had 21 saves vs. the Oilers on Tuesday and is 15-0-1 in his last 16 games. Overall, he is 25-5-2, with a 1.92 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Bobrovsky, the NHL's First Star for December, has started all but two games in this streak.
All that said, I like Washington to end the streak on Thursday. The Capitals are 23-9-5 on the season for 51 points. They are an excellent 14-5-1 at home and enter on a three-game winning streak. On Tuesday, Alex Ovechkin scored the OT winner vs. Toronto, ending the Leafs' five-game winning streak. It was Ovechkin's 19th NHL overtime goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for most in league history. Washington has scored 14 goals during the winning streak.
True, the Caps are 0-2 vs. Columbus this year. They lost 2-1 in OT on Nov. 15 in Ohio and 3-2 at home on Nov. 20. But Columbus is just 2-6 on NHL picks in its past eight trips to D.C. Washington opened as a -125 favorite for Thursday.