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For Holtby, accolades are 'noise in the background'

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For Holtby, accolades are 'noise in the background'

In what is turning out to be an historic hockey season for the Washington Capitals, goaltender Braden Holtby has been at the center of it all.

With Monday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks, the Caps’ 26-year-old netminder became the fastest goalie in NHL history to reach 41 wins.

With 16 games remaining, he’s already matched his career-high win total from last season and is marching every so diligently toward Marty Brodeur’s all-time record of 48 victories.

Holtby is just the seventh goaltender in NHL history to record back-to-back 40-win seasons and the first since Evgeni Nabokov (2007-09).

So what does it all mean to Holtby?   

“All I care about is winning,” he said. “If we win most of our games and my stats are horrible it doesn’t matter. Winning is the main objective in hockey. It’s a team stat so it’s a lot more enjoyable.”

This is why the Caps’ coaching staff will do everything within reason to get Holtby to break Brodeur’s record. (He is, by the way, two wins ahead of the pace set by Brodeur in 2006-07).

While there is a perception around the NHL that Holtby has been overworked this season, the Capitals would beg to differ. Last season Holtby set the club record by playing in 73 games. This season he is on pace for 67 games.

RELATED: No joke: Caps-Ducks lived up to its bill-ing

Caps goaltending coach Mitch Korn is particularly mindful of how many starts Holtby should be given down the stretch.

After starting seven straight games from Feb. 18 through March 1, Holtby and Philipp Grubauer have split the past four games and there’s a good chance Grubauer will be back between the pipes Wednesday night in Los Angeles, with Holtby returning to the net on Saturday when the Caps wrap up their road trip in San Jose.

If Holtby and Grubauer split the next two games and split the Caps’ three remaining back-to-back sets, that would give Holtby 12 chances to get eight victories needed to break Brodeur’s record and nine wins to reach the magical 50-win season.

Holtby says that if it was up to him, he’d play every one of the Caps’ remaining 16 games. In fact, he’s probably not happy the Caps have been given off today and Thursday this week.  

“I feel better when I play more,” he said. “I don’t really like the feeling of off days. I feel like I take a step back instead of a step forward. I’ve said it forever. It’s not up to me but if I was asked I would definitely do it (play every game).”

Against the Ducks on Monday Holtby was perhaps the best player on the ice, making several timely saves to keep the Capitals within one goal through two periods and allowing Ansdre Burakovsky to tie the game early in the third.

After the game Burakovsky was asked if he thought it was Holtby’s best game since the All-Star break.

“It’s tough to say,” Burakovsky replied, “because in my eyes he’s always sharp. He’s always standing on his head and saving us, so for me it was just another day for him.”

Nicklas Backstrom says the one thing he’s noticed about Holtby this season is the calmness he has shown between the pipes.

“I think this year he really took the next step and he has even more steps to take,” Backstrom said. “This year he’s been incredible to watch. He’s so calm back there and he wraps up wins like he’s been doing it all his life. It’s impressive and I’m happy for him.”

Backstrom said he’s also happy to see Holtby’s stellar season recognized by Team Canada, which selected him as one of three goaltenders for the 2016 World Cup, which will be held in Toronto in September. Holtby, on the other hand, said being recognized as one of the game’s elite goaltenders means little to him.

“It doesn’t make a difference to me,” he said. “It doesn’t  make me better, it doesn’t make me worse. I try to prepare every game to be at my best for the Capitals and try to accomplish a goal here. All the other stuff is kind of noise in the background.”

It’s noise certain to grow louder with each passing victory.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby leads Capitals to shootout win over Ducks 

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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USA TODAY Sports

With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

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

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

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