- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Game 3 ended at 11:26 p.m., Nationwide Arena didn’t look much different than it did at the opening faceoff. The facility reported a crowd of 19,337, a franchise record for the Columbus Blue Jackets, regular season or playoffs, and most of them stayed till the bitter end.

For the third straight game of this series, overtime was necessary to decide the winner, and for the third straight time, the visiting team found a way to pull it out.

Lars Eller kicked in the game-winning goal about halfway into the game’s second overtime, delivering the Washington Capitals their first win of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 3-2.

Most of the third period was tied at two after Blue Jackets star Artemi Panarin scored his second goal of the series. After 29 minutes of extra hockey, Eller scored on your typical overtime goal — Brett Connolly’s shot on a 3-on-2 breakaway bounced off Bobrovsky and Eller popped in the putback.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz wouldn’t admit after the game that his team has something “against” ending a game in regulation.

“Just want to win at the end. If it takes eight periods, we just want to win,” Trotz said.

Tom Wilson and John Carlson scored goals in regulation and Alex Ovechkin finished the game with two assists. Braden Holtby made his first start of the postseason in place of Philipp Grubauer and saved 33 shots.

Eighteen of his saves came in the third period or later. Though he didn’t think he was at his sharpest, it wasn’t tough to stay strong in overtime, he said.

“If you’re not in the game in playoff overtime, you’re probably not in the league,” Holtby said. “It’s more just making sure your body’s ready, conserving energy at the right times.”

Holtby’s instincts and playoff experience made a difference right away, as he stopped nine shots in the first period with some major assists by the team defense. Matt Niskanen, Michal Kempny and T.J. Oshie each blocked two shots in the first. The Capitals also survived two high-sticking penalties on Wilson and Jakub Vrana, with Vrana’s penalty minutes leaking into the second frame.

The Capitals opened the scoring 25:52 into the game when Niskanen snapped one from the blue line off an Ovechkin assist. The league later changed credit for the goal to Wilson, who got his stick on the puck for a redirection.

Brett Connolly briefly made the score 2-0 a few moments later. During a rush, Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky laid out for multiple non-glove saves but left an opening for Connolly to bury a rebound. But Columbus challenged, correctly guessing that Connolly crossed the blue line ahead of the puck before the play.

The Blue Jackets soon drew even with 8:42 left in the period. Seth Jones and Artemi Panarin shuttled the puck to Pierre-Luc Dubois, open by the right circle, for a wrister.

But special teams continued to leave their fingerprints on the series. Consecutive slashing penalties by Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Murray gave Washington 54 seconds of 5-on-3 hockey. The Capitals only needed 28 seconds for Nicklas Backstrom to set up Carlson for an easy one-timer.

Four minutes into the third, Dmitry Orlov misplayed a loose puck and Panarin picked it up to create an odd-man breakaway. He and Cam Atkinson took on Carlson, and Panarin buried the equalizer.

Columbus followed this with a dangerous rush, and Holtby bent over backwards to keep their chances out of the net. After the Blue Jackets did not get a shot on goal in the last 9:22 of the second, they outshot the Capitals 10-6 in the third. But the game was destined for overtime, the hallmark of this series for better or worse.

The Blue Jackets camped out in their offensive zone quickly, and Holtby had to take care of several chances in the opening minutes, ranging from a wraparound just wide of the net to a head-on wrister. Panarin took a breakaway shot from the left side six minutes in, trying to recreate his Game 1 winner, but he put it straight into Holtby’s chest.

Washington had its fair share of chances as the fourth period continued, but very few real threats. Carlson was called for tripping with 4:18 left to play, but the penalty kill made its fourth stop of the night to remain perfect.

The Capitals‘ penalty kill went just 4-for-8 in Games 1 and 2. Trotz said it was improved Tuesday night because at this point in a series, “it’s about adjustments.”

“You keep seeing the same faces and you try to come up with a wrinkle every game,” Trotz said. “They’re gonna look at the film and dissect it like we have, and we’re going to do the same thing, and we’re going to see if there’s just something that we can add or we have to crack. It’s all about adjustments now.”

Bobrovsky made 42 saves for the Blue Jackets. Coach John Tortorella said “no one is down” in his locker room despite their first loss of the postseason.

“I’m not gonna pick apart the team. I think we played better tonight than we played the last game, and we won the last game,” Tortorella said. “It’s NHL playoff hockey. It’s a strange animal.”

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