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Holtby bails out Caps with 44 saves


Holtby bails out Caps with 44 saves

PITTSBURGH -- The Capitals all agree they’ve been making Braden Holtby work way too hard his past two games. But they’re pretty happy with the results.

After seeing him stop 35 of 36 shots in Tampa on Saturday, the Caps watched Holtby turn aside 44 shots in a 4-1 win over the Penguins Monday night, stretching his personal stretch of dominance to 11-0-1.

“We’re so happy to have him in the net,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who scored one goal and assisted on two more by T.J. Oshie. “He’s our best player every night. It’s impressive to see. To be honest I haven’t seen him any better than this.”

Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals in seven straight games and in 19 of his 24 starts this season.

RELATED: Holtby, Oshie star in win over Penguins 

Against the Penguins Holtby had to be good from the start. He closed his pads on a redirection from Sidney Crosby on the opening shift of the game and was nearly perfect the rest of the way, stopping defenseman Olli Maatta six times and Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, David Perron, Chris Kunitz and Ian Cole four times each.

“I was seeing the puck well through traffic,” Holtby said. “I thought my movement was good, but it had to be because my rebound control wasn’t very good.”

Still, the Caps weren’t happy with forcing their goalie to face the most shots he’s seen all season, even if Barry Trotz thought the shot totals were padded for the home team.  

“We addressed it,” said Capitals center Jay Beagle, who assisted on John Carlson’s first-period goal. “Holts had to stand on his head again. We’ve got to be better defensively. It starts with getting the puck deep. We’ve got to tighten up.”

Despite getting outshot 31-24 in the first two periods the Caps carried a 2-1 lead into the third. Backstrom got the Caps on the board with a wicked wrist shot after a nice blue line curl and backhand pass from Oshie.

A strong forecheck by the Caps’ third line of Beagle, Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson led to Carlson’s goal, which came on his own rebound.

The Caps sealed it in the third when Oshie and Backstrom again worked their magic. Oshie took a pass from Backstrom and swung around the back of the net to tuck a wraparound past Marc-Andre Fleury with 8:50 gone in the third to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.

“I looked down at him right away and it looked like he got stuck somehow maybe, or he was staying on the post,” Oshie said of his first goal, “and fortunately I beat him to the other post.”   

The Penguins pulled Fleury with more than two minutes remaining in the game, but Wilson drew a hooking penalty against Maatta and Carlson drew a tripping penalty on Malkin, allowing Oshie to finish off the Pens with a power-play slam dunk off a Backstrom feed.

“That goal made it a completely different game and the penalties (to Maatta and Malkin) are a big game changer,” Holtby said. “(Wilson) keeps his feet moving and he draws a penalty and that’s good game management right there.”

While Malkin picked up his 14th goal of the season against the Caps’ top line, Beagle did a masterful job of suffocating both Crosby and Malkin when they were out together.    

“I knew we’d get one or the other,” Beagle said. “I think they were matching Malkin against our line more than we were trying to match them. Their forwards are so dynamic that you’ve got to get (the puck) behind them and go to work.”

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."