WASHINGTON — It’s been a given for some time that the Washington Capitals were going to finish with the NHL’s best record.
They officially checked that box on Monday night. Now they are ready to move on.
Tom Wilson scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots and the Capitals defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1, clinching the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice throughout the playoffs.
“No one remembers who won the Presidents’ Trophy,” Wilson said. “We’re happy that we did it. We’re happy that we did it in front of the best fans in the league, but at the end of the day we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom also scored for Washington (54-16-5), which equaled the franchise mark for regular-season wins.
Wilson’s goal came at 3:46 of the third period after Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky moved to his left to make a save on Mike Richards. Wilson, moving to Bobrovsky’s right, corralled the rebound and back-handed the puck into the open net for his seventh goal.
Oshie provided some insurance with 5:34 left when he deflected Matt Niskanen’s shot from the point during Washington’s fifth power play of the night.
“You try to tip ’em when they come through and hope somehow they hit a hole, and that one had eyes there,” said Oshie, who along with fellow newcomer Williams has provided the kind of scoring depth the Capitals will be counting on in the postseason.
Backstrom added an empty-netter.
It’s Washington’s first Presidents’ Trophy since 2009-10, when it was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Montreal. The Capitals have only made it past the second round twice, and earned their only trip to the finals in 1997-98 when they were swept by the Red Wings.
“I think the guys in here are proud of what we did. It’s a big accomplishment,” Oshie said. “We’re eager to pat each other on the back and move on and keep growing our game for the playoffs. We know how hungry this town is for the playoffs and we’re right there with them.”
The Capitals are now 15-0-1 in games immediately following regulation losses this season, the only team without back-to-back regulation defeats.
Cam Atkinson scored his 27th goal of the season for Columbus (30-38-8), which has lost three straight and eight of 11.
“Against a team like that we have to make more of our opportunities offensively,” Columbus head coach John Tortorella said. “We had a lot of almost opportunities. We had a two on (none), we get nothing. We had some two-on-ones, three-on-twos, we get nothing, not even a shot on net.”
Washington hadn’t scored a five-on-five goal in its past two games, but ended that skid late in the first period.
Bobrovsky (34 saves) made the initial save on a slapper by John Carlson, but the rebound went right to Williams, who fired it home for his 22nd of the season with 3:30 left in the period.
The lead lasted less than two minutes.
Rene Bourque of Columbus deflected a clearing attempt by Washington’s Dmitry Orlov and the puck was ultimately controlled by Atkinson near the left circle. He beat Holtby with 1:54 left before intermission.
The Blue Jackets leading scorer, Boone Jenner, left early in the first period after taking a deflected puck in the face, but he returned in the second period.
“I don’t think there was a doubt in anybody’s mind unless he was on his way to the hospital or dead that he was going to come back,” Brandon Dubinsky said of Jenner. “That’s just the type of guy he is and type of player he is.”
NOTES: Capitals RW T.J. Oshie (flu) returned after missing two games. … Washington G Braden Holtby has 46 wins this season, two behind the NHL single-season record set by New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in 2006-07. … Washington scratched D Taylor Chorney, D Mike Weber, C Michael Latta and RW Stanislav Galiev. … Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky came in needing one win to surpass Steve Mason (96) for the franchise record. … Columbus RW David Clarkson (lower body injury) missed his seventh game, and D Fedor Tyutin (lower body) sat out his second. RW Jared Boll was scratched.