Capitals upbeat after double OT win: ‘It’s a different series now’


COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Washington Capitals were given a well-deserved day off Wednesday after winning the second longest game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lars Eller’s game-winning goal at the nine-minute mark of double overtime Tuesday mercifully ended the marathon at Nationwide Arena and, more importantly, secured a 3-2 Capitals win in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Although Columbus still leads the series 2-games-to-1, the Capitals have reason to be upbeat after avoiding the dreaded 0-3 hole. Only four teams in NHL history have rallied from three games down to win a series.

“When you’re down 2-0, it’s almost like two do-or-die games,” said Tom Wilson, who picked up his first goal of the postseason and led the Capitals with a team-high six shots on goal.

“If you don’t win the do-or-die Game 3, then you’re up against the wall. So, we looked it as a do-or-die, must-win game and we got the win. Now we can look to the next one.”

The Capitals and Blue Jackets return to the ice Thursday for Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. The game can be heard on WFED 1500AM with pregame coverage beginning at 7:15 p.m. With a win, the Capitals would regain home-ice advantage.

“It’s a different series now,” said forward Brett Connolly, who assisted on the game-winning goal. “It’s a happy group coming in here. It was a lot of fun seeing all of the guys so excited.”

Below are three storylines to monitor ahead of Game 4:

More From Top-6 at Even-Strength: The Capitals have scored a total of four even-strength goals in three games with bottom-six forwards Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly and Jay Beagle accounting for three of them. Only one even-strength goal has come from Washington’s top six – a Wilson tally in Game 3.

If the Capitals are to mount a comeback and advance to the second round, they are going to need more from their top players at five-on-five. Evgeny Kuznetsov (two power-play goals), Nicklas Backstrom (five power-play assists) and T.J. Oshie (one PPG, one PPA) have all contributed with the man-advantage but all three are still seeking their first even-strength point of the series.

Containing Blue Jackets’ No.1 Line: While the Capitals are looking for more from their headliners at even-strength, the Blue Jackets’ top line has been their best.

The trio of Artemi Panarin (2G/5A), Pierre-Luc Dubois (1G/2A) and Cam Atkinson (2G/2A) has been a handful all series, combining for five goals and 14 points. Four of their goals have come at even-strength, including Panarin’s overtime game-winner to seal the Jackets’ 4-3 Game 1 victory.

Panarin has arguably been the best player in the series on either team. While the Jackets have long been a hard-working blue-collar bunch, Panarin gives them the type of game breaker they’ve never had. The NHL’s 2016 Rookie of the Year led Columbus in scoring this season with 27 goals and a franchise-record 82 points.

Holtby Carries the Load: Braden Holtby made 33 saves in his first start of the series and turned aside all nine shots he faced beyond regulation. After a disappointing second half of the season, Holtby has an opportunity to change the narrative. Barring an injury. it’s hard to imagine the Capitals going back to Philipp Grubauer this series given his play in Games 1 and 2.

Although there has not been any official declaration, it’s safe to say that Holtby is back to being the No.1.

“Braden was solid,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Game 3. “I thought he made some real big saves late in the game, in overtime, at the end he was real solid. He handles the puck really well. He saved our defense from a few extra hits and whacks. He’s good. His playoffs in the past have been pretty solid so hopefully he can keep it up.”

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