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Blue Jackets aim to take stranglehold vs. Capitals

(AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Washington Capitals played their way right back into their first-round playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it took a lot of extra effort to do so.

The Capitals' 3-2 victory on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena on a goal by Lars Eller at 8:09 of the second overtime narrowed their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference engagement.

With Game 4 scheduled for Thursday night at Nationwide, the Capitals find themselves with an opportunity to get even and regain home-ice advantage before the series heads back to Washington on Saturday. That scenario is certainly better than being down 3-0 and facing elimination on the opponents' home ice.

No team in NHL history had lost the first three games of a playoff series in overtime.

"When you're down 2-0, it's almost like two do-or-die games," Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. "If you don't win the do-or-die Game 3, you're probably up against the wall. We kind of looked at it as a do-or-die, must win -- and we got the win. So now we can look to the next one."

Eller's goal -- his first in the playoffs -- ended a stellar goaltending duel between Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky and Washington's Braden Holtby before a record crowd.

"It's going to be a battle again in Game 4," Eller said. "But it's very fair we have one win after these three games. It's been close every game.

"We don't look far (ahead). All we talk about is the next shift, next period, small adjustments. We don't look very far ahead. You've got to keep your eye on the ball, and on the next shift. That's the mentality."

Extra periods have become a habit for the Capitals, not only in this series but in the playoffs in general. The double-overtime affair was the 13th multiple-goal game in franchise history, and Washington has a 4-9 record in those.

Last year, the Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs played five overtime games in the first round before Washington came back from a 2-1 deficit to prevailed in six.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz surely would like to break the overtime habit, but Tuesday's result was certainly better than the first two outcomes.

"We just want to win. If it takes eight periods, we just want to win," he said. "We won one game today. We didn't get what we wanted at home, and so our focus has to be on one game.

"To get fat and happy after a win ... we're still in a hole. We need a lot of desperation, we need a lot of commitment, we need a lot of focus. We need to get this tied up. That's our only focus right now."

The Blue Jackets still lead the series, but they've barely led in any of the first three games. They've faced deficits in each and rallied to win the first two before the puck finally failed to bounce their way in Game 3.

"This is what playoff hockey is," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "It's not always going to go your way. But we've put ourselves in a real good spot by going in there (in Washington) and stealing two. They're, I'm sure, fully planning on doing that to us. But we're going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen."

One thing the Blue Jackets want to avoid is penalties, which the Capitals' potent power play has taken advantage of in each game. On Tuesday, a five-on-three at the end of the second period led to a go-ahead goal by Washington's John Carlson.

The Blue Jackets came back to tie in the third period on a goal by forward Artemi Panarin.

"I think we're comfortable in that (trailing)," Blue Jackets John Tortorella said. "We don't want to be there, but I don't think it affects how we play. Sometimes it's tougher to have the lead. I felt in that third period, (the Capitals) were on their heels, in trying to protect that lead."

Could there be a fourth overtime game in the offing?

"We just go forward, trying not to be (disappointed), just keep working, just keep playing," Panarin said. "Anything can happen."

Updated April 19, 2018

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