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Braden Holtby, almost singlehandedly, gets the Caps a point on the road

Braden Holtby, almost singlehandedly, gets the Caps a point on the road

TAMPA—The Capitals didn’t earn the two points they came here seeking, but they got one—and they’ve got goalie Braden Holtby to thank for it.

Holtby was easily the Caps’ best player Saturday at Amalie Arena, where the Lightning eked out a 2-1 shootout victory. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced, including a handful of difficult saves at critical junctures.

”He made some really key stops in that game, at really key moments when the game was 0-0 and another when it was 1-0 for them,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought his effort was real solid. Without his performance maybe we don’t get a point here.”

RELATED: Caps' struggles continue after shootout loss to Lightning

One such save came six minutes into the second period. Tyler Johnson won a defensive zone draw, Ondrej Palat flipped a long pass to Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s leading goal scorer. Kucherov gathered the puck on the fly, broke in alone and attempted to beat Holtby on the blocker side. Holtby, though, turned him back, keeping it 0-0.

“It was high flip, so you never know if it’s going to dig in or not,” Holtby said of the play. “So I didn’t know if I had the time to go out and get it, which I might have. But I tried to just play it patient.”

In the 3-on-3 overtime, Holtby came up with another game-changing gem. Palat went end-to-end, knifing through Lars Eller, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson. The winger raced in at full speed and tried to beat Holtby through the five-hole. Holtby, however, slid over in the butterfly and slammed his pads shut just in time.

“Holts was great,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who tallied the Caps’ long goal. “He’s been great for us all season, as usual. He’s always giving us a chance to win. Now it’s just up to us to start scoring goals.”

Indeed, the Caps have now scored only 13 goals in the past seven games (3-3-1). And, for the most part, the offense struggled to get much going on Saturday, as well.

Holtby, however, chose to focus on the positives after the loss.

“Obviously, we got a big one from our power play,” Holtby said, asked how he digests a shootout defeat on the road. “But it shows character that we were able to come back from 1-0. They’re in the same situation as us; they were desperate, as well. A game like that can go either way, really.”

With the 32-save performance, Holtby’s save percentage improved to .922 and his goal against average dropped to 2.18.

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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE

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Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance brings clarity to Caps' goalie situation

As the postseason began, the refrain from Barry Trotz has been how confident he is in both netminders and that the decision on who will start would be on a game-by-game basis. That tone changed sharply on Wednesday in the wake of Braden Holtby's Game 3 performance.

On a conference call with the media, Trotz was asked Wednesday if Holtby would start Game 4.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.

That type of clarity regarding who the Caps netminder is refreshing at this point as uncertainty has followed each of the first two games of the series.

The decision to sit Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer originally was not an easy one. After going through a tough six-week stretch from February to March, Holtby yielded the crease to Grubauer. The German netminder played well down the stretch and Trotz elected to stay with the hot hand to start the playoffs.

"[Holtby] was obviously probably a little disappointed but at the same time he's a total pro and our conversation was good," Trotz said. "The one thing that stands out to me, he says, if I get a chance to come back in the net I'll stop the puck. But I'm in. I understand and I'm ready if you need me."

Hotlby certainly was ready on Tuesday.

Grubauer performance admirably in Game 1 and Game 2, but he could not get the big save when the team needed it as Trotz lamented on Sunday.

The Caps got a number of those key saves from Holtby in Game 3, his first start of the series, as he turned aside 33 of the 35 shots he faced. To be fair, he was bailed out by the post four times in the game, but for the most part, it was a strong performance. When the backup plays well in a loss, it still generates questions on who will play going forward. When the starter comes back into the game and plays well, it erases all doubt as to who the starter will be going forward.

For the first time all series, the question of who will start is finally an easy one for Trotz to answer.

Trotz is also hopeful that Holtby has not only recovered from his struggles, but has improved his game because of them.

"You see it around the league with top goaltenders, they have some of these periods where they have to reset or refine themselves a little bit because it tests you," Trotz said. "This league test you all the time. It changes all the time and you have to change with it a little bit. I think it forced [Holtby] to move forward a little bit, rethink some things and recalibrate his game to the game that's being played in the National Hockey League right now.

"I think it's been a good process for him. I think it's just going to make him a more complete goaltender going forward, a more complete person going forward. It says a lot about  Braden."

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