TORONTO -- The Washington Capitals have seen this script play out before. Often a dominant team in the regular season, but once the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrive, success has not come as easily.
Through three games of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals find themselves trying to avoid a "here we go again" mindset, down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series after losing 4-3 in overtime in Game 3.
They do not want to think about it inside the dressing room but acknowledge that there is no denying it is a stigma they will have to find a way to shake on their own.
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"Until we change the narrative, that's going to be the question," Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "So it's up to us to change it. You can't talk about it, you've got to just go out and do it."
After winning the Presidents' Trophy last season, the Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 in their first-round series but fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in the second round.
Since joining the Capitals in 2005-06, Alex Ovechkin has not been beyond the second round of the playoffs. So far, the series against the inexperienced Maple Leafs has not played out to be as much of a mismatch as some had thought, but Ovechkin feels his older, more experienced team is capable of bouncing back in Game 4 at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC).
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"It's a situation when you have to fight through it," Ovechkin said. "Obviously we don't have to panic or do some crazy stuff out there. We just have to play our game. I think we're experienced enough and old enough to manage it and just forget about it and move forward. It doesn't matter if we'd won this game. I would say the same, we move forward and we forget about this game. Again, the series goes till four so whatever it takes, we're going to do."
The Capitals led the Maple Leafs 2-0 after scoring on their first two shots Monday. After Auston Matthews scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal to make it 2-1 at 14:08 of the first period, Evgeny Kuznetsov restored Washington's two goal lead at 5:39 of the second. But Toronto got goals from Nazem Kadri and William Nylander 4:07 apart to tie the game 3-3 before the second intermission. Tyler Bozak scored 1:37 into overtime to give Toronto the win.
"I don't think we've fallen into that [here we go again] mindset," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. "We have trust in our abilities and know what we're capable of. I think that's more of an outside the room driven narrative but that's what it's been like in the past. On the inside, we know who we are and we know what we're capable of."
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Facing the potential of trailing 3-1 in the series, coach Barry Trotz remained positive after the Capitals' second consecutive overtime loss.
"I don't think there's any doubt, it's the first team to four so we've got some room here," Trotz said. "You get tested, that's what life's about. I'm from Manitoba, [Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock] is from Saskatchewan, those winters are hard and not everything comes easy. It's not coming easy right now but at the same time we're right there. It's been three overtime games, a heck of a series. You find out a lot about your guys, you really do."