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.”
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.