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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 3, Jackets 2 (OT)

April 18, 2018
Lucky 13 – Tuesday night’s double overtime Stanley Cup playoff game between the Capitals and the Blue Jackets in Columbus marked the 13 thtime in Washington’s franchise history that a Caps playoff contest has gone beyond 20 minutes of overtime.

Those of you out there who have been with us for several years know these types of contests typically don’t go the Caps’ way in the end, but No. 13 turned out to be a lucky one for Washington. 

Lars Eller scored his first playoff goal as a member of the Capitals at nine minutes of the second overtime period, lifting the Caps to a 3-2 win over the Jackets and shrinking the Columbus lead in the series to 2-1.

Going to the net in pursuit of the rebound of a Brett Connolly shot, Eller benefited from a fortuitous bounce; the puck rattled off Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski and Eller and bounded into the net behind Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who was engaged in a taut goaltending duel with Caps counterpart Braden Holtby.

“It’s the best feeling,” beams Eller. “The best.” 

It’s certainly better than the alternative – a loss would have left the Caps in a 3-0 canyon in the series, and now Washington will look to get even in the set in Thursday night’s Game 4. 

“We don’t look far [ahead],” says Eller. “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.” 

Eller’s line had a goal waved off in the middle of the second period on Tuesday, so it was somewhat fitting and deserving that the Eller trio manufactured the game-winner. Connolly appeared to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at 8:09 of the second when he scored off a prolonged goalmouth scramble, but the Jackets issued a successful video challenge that showed Connolly was just a shade offside as he entered the zone. 

Eller’s game-winning goal leaves Washington with a 4-9 record all-time in playoff games requiring multiple overtimes. Prior to Tuesday night, the Caps’ most recent win in a multiple-overtime playoff game came on April 14, 2012 when Nicklas Backstrom scored at 2:56 of the second overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 win over Boston in Game 2 of the first-round series between the Caps and Bruins.

Aside from Eller and Backstrom, only Mike Gartner (on April 11, 1985 vs. the New York Islanders) and Joé Juneau (on April 26, 1998 vs. Boston) have scored game-winners for Washington in multiple overtime games. All four of the Caps’ game-winning goals in multiple-overtime games were scored in first-round series, with two of them in a Game 2 and two in a Game 3. 

Overtime, Again – Overtime has become more routine than rarity for the Capitals of late, particularly in the first round. Tuesday’s Game 3 marks the third time in as many games this series that overtime has been required to determine the outcome, and the eighth time in Washington’s last nine first-round games, dating back to last spring.

Overall, the Caps have now gone to overtime in 12 of their last 22 Stanley Cup playoff contests. Washington is split down the middle at 6-6 in those dozen overtime contests. Seventeen of the Caps’ last 22 playoff games have been decided by a single goal, and Washington has now played 10 straight one-goal games in the first round, dating back to the spring of 2016. 

No team in Stanley Cup playoff history has lost the first three games of a series in overtime, but the Caps were a red light away from meeting that dubious distinction on Tuesday night.

“Yeah, we were close, huh?” quips Connolly. “You know what? It’s a crazy game. The playoffs are crazy. There is momentum swing after momentum swing, I got my first taste of it last year a little bit. You’ve just got to be 100 percent invested in it, you’ve got to play for your teammates on every shift and you’ve got to just try to bear down on your opportunities. I think that we were way better tonight.”

Climbing The Ladder – John Carlson scored a five-on-three power-play goal for the Caps in the second period of Tuesday’s Game 3, his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs and the 14 thof his playoff career. With that goal, Carlson moves past Sergei Gonchar for second place on Washington’s all-time list for postseason goals by a defenseman. Carlson now trails leader Kevin Hatcher (16) by just two goals.

Nine of Carlson’s 14 career postseason goals have come on the power play, tops all-time among Washington defensemen. Mike Green is second with six.

Great Eight – Earlier this month, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin skated in the 1,000 thregular season game of his NHL career. In Tuesday night’s Game 3, he skated in the 100 thStanley Cup playoff game of his NHL career. In doing so, Ovechkin tied Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller for he most playoff games played in Capitals franchise history. 

“It’s been a long time since I played the first game,” said Ovechkin before Tuesday’s Game 3. “Obviously, we didn’t get lots of success those games, but again it’s the experience and it gives me confidence all the time when I step on the ice in important games.” 

Ovechkin has 48 goals and 46 assists for 94 career playoff points; he is Washington’s all-time leader in the goals and points categories. He notched a goal and an assist in his first Stanley Cup playoff game against Philadelphia in the District on April 11, 2008. 

Since Ovechkin’s first playoff appearance in 2008, he is tied with Daniel Briere for the lead among all NHL players with .48 goals per game in the playoffs (50 or more playoff games).

In Thursday’s Game 4 here in Columbus, Ovechkin’s longtime teammate and frequent linemate Nicklas Backstrom will skate in his 100 thcareer playoff game in the league. 

Thirty For Seventy – Making his first start of the 2018 playoffs, Holtby stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced to earn his first win of the spring and the 30 thof his Stanley Cup playoff career. Holtby is now 30-31 lifetime in the postseason, and a dozen of his 31 losses have come in games in which he has allowed two or fewer goals.

To add some perspective to that last stat, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre has 111 career playoff starts to 60 for Holtby, or nearly twice as many. And yet Fleury has suffered only 10 losses in starts in which he has surrendered two or fewer goals. 

“Braden was solid, there is no question,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “I thought he made some real big saves late in the game, in overtime, you name it. He was real, real solid. He handles the puck really well, and he saved our defense from a few extra hits and whacks. He was good. His playoffs in the past have been really solid, so hopefully he can continue.” 

By The Numbers – Matt Niskanen led all skaters on both sides with 37:17 in ice time … Tom Wilson led the Caps with six shots on net … Ovechkin led the Capitals with 13 shot attempts … Brooks Orpik led the Caps with seven hits … Michal Kempny led the Caps with three blocked shots … Jay Beagle won nine of 15 face-offs (60%) and Evgeny Kuznetsov won 12 of 20 (60%).