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Caps top Blue Jackets 4-1 to even series at 2 games each

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

By MITCH STACY

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Game 4 lacked the intensity of the three before it, and no overtime heroics were necessary. Instead, the workmanlike Washington Capitals turned in their most complete game of the playoffs, putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets to tie their series at two games apiece.

Not that the Blue Jackets did themselves any favors in the 4-1 loss Thursday night. They came out flat, squandered an early power play, surrendered pucks in the neutral zone and couldn't seem to get any traction until late in the game.

Columbus had overcome deficits to win the first two games in Washington. When the series shifted to Columbus on Tuesday, the Capitals prevailed on a lucky bounce in double-overtime.

Now the best-of-7 series moves back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday afternoon.

"All we've done is gotten on even terms," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "We got ourselves in a hole, and we have to continue to push forward. The next game is a real pivotal game. Someone is going to take the lead in this series, and then your back is against the wall. We have to make sure we're ready to go."

Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and two assists for the Capitals, who made sure the game was never in doubt. Tom Wilson and Alexander Ovechkin each had a goal and an assist, and T.J. Oshie also tallied.

"We've been a confident group all year," said Washington goalie Braden Holtby, who finished with 23 saves. "I don't think we've ever doubted ourselves. We came into this building with the right mindset."

There was no comeback magic this time for the Blue Jackets, who couldn't seem to shift out of neutral until coach John Tortorella started switching up the lines in the second period.

Boone Jenner scored for Columbus, and Sergei Bobrovsky had 29 saves.

"There's no sense asking me things about the game," a bewildered Tortorella told reporters. "I'm telling you, we laid an egg, so I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked. Let's move by it and see if we play better Saturday afternoon."

Washington led 1-0 after the opening period. Just after Columbus' Thomas Vanek knocked the puck out of the blue paint with his glove, Kuznetsov shoveled the carom from the right boards out to Wilson, who connected from above the circle at 6:16.

The Capitals got their second halfway through the second period on a power play when Oshie flicked in a rebound. Ovechkin beat Bobrovsky from the right circle early in the third period to give the Caps a three-goal lead.

A few minutes later, Jenner redirected Josh Anderson's slap shot to make it a 3-1 game and finally give the record Nationwide Arena crowd of 19,395 something to cheer about. Kuznetsov added an empty-net goal with 2:19 left in the game.

"They scored that goal to kind of sneak back in it a little bit, and we didn't miss a beat," Washington defenseman John Carlson said. "Our next shift I think we dominated them, and maybe one or two after that one, too. Those are the kinds of things you need to do to win."

Columbus captain Nick Foligno also couldn't explain what happened to the Blue Jackets after they had showed so much juice in the first three games.

"We know we have to be way better," he said. "Maybe it gives us a little kick in the rear to know we have a real good opportunity in front of us to go back there. Home ice hasn't been too nice to each team. We feel good about ourselves and the fact that we haven't played our best hockey yet. We've got to find it."

NOTES: When a best-of-7 series goes to 2-2, the winner of Game 5 wins 78.8 percent of the time, according to the NHL. ... Washington F Andre Burakovsky missed a second game with an upper-body injury. It's not clear if he will play in Game 5. ... The Capitals have scored the first goal in all four playoff games. ... Washington has seven power-play goals in the series. ... Ovechkin has three goals and three assists in the four games.

UP NEXT

Game 5 is Saturday in Washington.

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Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

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More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Updated April 19, 2018

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