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Round 1

Capitals optimistic about comeback entering Game 3 against Blue Jackets

Have carried play for most of series despite trailing 2-0

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Raise your hand if you believe the Washington Capitals will come back to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round.

It's understandable if you're hesitant. The Capitals trail 2-0 in the best-of-7 series after two overtime losses at home with Game 3 coming up in Columbus on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, NBCSWA). Of the 89 teams in NHL history to lose the first two games of a best-of-7 series at home, 19 (21.3 percent) have come back to win, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Those aren't inspiring odds, but the Capitals say they believe they can do it. If you don't, that's fine with them because they've been proving their doubters wrong all season.

"There's been a lot of difficulties right through the season," coach Barry Trotz said Monday. "I've got a lot of faith in this group."

 

[RELATED: Capitals do too much wrong again in Game 2 loss | Capitals vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

Few outside the Capitals locker room expected them to finish in first place in the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive season after they lost forwards Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik, and defensemen Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt in the offseason. With Trotz in the final year of his contract, his future appeared tenuous after they went 11-10-1 in their first 22 games, but they turned things around after that and finished 49-26-7 with 105 points, surpassing 100 for the fourth consecutive season.

Of course, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are different. The Capitals have not been able to advance past the second round since 1998, even after they won the Presidents' Trophy the past two seasons.

But if this team is different from those that preceded it, which the Capitals have been saying all season, this is their chance to prove it.

"Obviously, we're disappointed and we're mad," center Nicklas Backstrom said after a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 2 on Sunday. "We're down 2-0 and, obviously, we're playing a good hockey team. They've got two home games now. But we're going to do everything to turn things around. There's a lot of hockey left."

The Capitals do have reasons for optimism, even with forward Andre Burakovsky out for at least the next two games because of an upper-body injury. They've outplayed the Blue Jackets for long stretches and had multigoal leads in each of the first two games. They led 2-0 and 3-2 in Game 1 before losing 4-3 in overtime. They led 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 2.

Video: Breaking down the Blue Jackets' Game 2 win vs. Caps

Even after they fell behind 4-3 on Sunday, the Capitals kept battling, outshooting the Blue Jackets 21-5 in the third period and tying the game 4-4 on T.J. Oshie's power-play goal with 3:35 left in the third period.

The Capitals outshot the Blue Jackets 58-30, and the shot attempts were 103-55 in their favor, but they couldn't find a way to get another goal past Sergei Bobrovsky before Matt Calvert's one-handed rebound goal won it for the Blue Jackets 12:22 into overtime.

"I thought last night we for the most part created more chances, probably had more of the overall play," Trotz said. "I liked our game. You look at the shot totals, you look at all those things, at the same time, we allowed them with a couple of mistakes to get back in the game."

The Capitals keep shooting themselves in the foot with undisciplined penalties that have led to power-play goals and breakdowns that have led to goals off odd-man rushes. If they can clean up those areas while playing in a hostile environment, they will have a good chance in Game 3.

They'll also need better goaltending. Trotz wouldn't announce his Game 3 starter, but it seems likely that he'll go back to Braden Holtby after backup Philipp Grubauer started the first two games and was pulled in Game 2.

Video: CBJ@WSH, Gm2: Calvert nets OT winner with one hand

After Holtby struggled for a stretch in February into March, he finished the regular season by winning five of his final six starts. The 2016 Vezina Trophy winner has had success against the Blue Jackets during the regular season; he's 14-4-2 in his career, including 3-1-0 this season.

If Holtby starts Game 3, he'll need to come up with the timely, momentum-stemming saves that Grubauer couldn't for the Capitals to rebound from the first two games.

"That's what we've worked on all year, is erasing the last game, focusing on the next one," Holtby said Sunday. "Use the time we have to make adjustments, see where we can do better, see where we're doing good, and having success and come up with a good game plan for Game 3.

"It's on us as players to make sure we're mentally prepared to execute it."

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