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Ovi: Holtby 'best goalie in the league right now'

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Ovi: Holtby 'best goalie in the league right now'

Every year there has always been something that has gotten in the way of the Capitals going deep in the playoffs.

In 2008 against the Flyers, it was a Tom Poti penalty that led to Joffrey Lupul’s overtime goal in Game 7 of the first round.

In 2009 against the Penguins, it was shaky goaltending by Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov that led to an eventual Game 7 blowout loss to the Penguins in Round 2.

In 2010 against the Canadiens, it was Jaroslav Halak that stunned the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the first round.

In 2011 against the Lightning, it was injuries to defensemen Mike Green and John Carlson that led to a quick exit in Round 2.

In 2012 against the Rangers, it was a late double minor to Joel Ward in Game 5 that led to a pair of goals, turning a 3-2 series lead into a 3-2 series deficit and an eventual Game 7 defeat.

In 2013 against the Rangers, it was the shot-blocking prowess of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi that halted Alex Ovechkin in Round 2.

And in 2015 against the Rangers it was the Caps’ inability to put the dagger in the Rangers after going up 3-1 in the series that allowed the Rangers to prevail in seven games.

“Every year we have a chance to be in the playoffs and a chance to win the Cup,” Alex Ovechkin told reporters on Monday in Buffalo.

“What’s good about this team is we have one of the best goalies in the league and a hot goalie in Holts. We know if we’re going to make a mistake he’s there and he’s going to save it. On a good team, a goalie is 75 percent of the success. I think years before we don’t have that guy.”

RELATED Trotz says Caps recipients of post-fight karma

Braden Holtby then went out and made those words sound prophetic by stopping 31 shots in a 2-0 shutout, running his personal regulation unbeaten streak to 16 games (15-0-1) . It is the longest stretch of not losing in regulation since 2013-14 when Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller (14-0-2) and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov (11-0-5) each went 16 games without a regulation loss.

In 29 starts for the Caps, Holtby ranks first in the NHL in wins (23) and goals-against average (1.86) and second in save percentage (.935).

“He’s our best player and the best goalie in the league right now,” Ovechkin said.

“He’s definitely the main reason we’re at the top (of the Eastern Conference) right now,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “You need a good goaltender to win and go deep in this league and he’s our guy right now and we’ve got to protect him.”

The Capitals’ Stanley Cup aspirations flashed in front of their eyes with 4:10 remaining in Monday night’s game when Tyler Ennis saw a loose puck at Holtby’s feet and darted toward the crease, crashing helmets with Holtby as the puck crossed the goal line.

The goal was immediately waved off, but after the game Sabres coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t quite sure why.

“The puck was available,” Bylsma said. “It was open and in his feet, so everybody should have been driving in there. It’s not a situation where the puck was covered. The puck was sitting there between his legs and the goalie didn’t know where it was at.”

Holtby admitted as much, hinting he thought a goalie interference penalty might be called on the play.

“I didn’t really know where the puck was,” he said. “It was kind of a strange play where he flubbed it and it spun off my stick. I was expecting that if it wasn’t a goal we’d be on the power play, but that’s the way it goes.”

Bylsma challenged the call on the ice but was overruled.

“I’m not sure I really have the ability to challenge a no-goal call,” he said. “I did anyway. He made that call on the ice, that there was contact. I’m not really sure they can overturn that with a review but with 4 minutes left in the game I was going to take every opportunity to try to do it.”

Later in the third period, with just under a minute remaining, Holtby preserved the shutout by stretching out his left arm to stop what appeared to be a sure goal by Evander Kane at the side of the net.

“Usually when I get it up over his pad it goes in, but he made a great save,” Kane said. “I haven't been robbed like that in a while."

“It was kind of a broken play,” Holtby said. “It ended up in his body so I knew I had a bit of time to push and get over there and try to take away where shooters usually shoot the puck and it went in the glove, luckily.”

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."

RELATED: WHERE MICHAL KEMKPNY FITS IN THE CAPS' LINEUP

The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up on the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."

MORE CAPITALS: MEET MICHAL KEMPNY

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

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

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Lightning game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals (34-18-7) take on the Lightning (39-17-3) Tuesday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Washington.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME ON?

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

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Lightning game:

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

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Michal Kempney, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals-Lightning game, 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.

CAPITALS-LIGHTNING 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.