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Why Holtby will get only two cracks at Brodeur's record

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Why Holtby will get only two cracks at Brodeur's record

No matter what happens tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals plan on giving goaltender Braden Holtby just one of the club’s final two regular season games against the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks, with backup Philipp Grubauer getting the other start.

With 47 wins in 64 starts, Holtby is one win away from tying Marty Brodeur’s single-season record of 48 wins, set in 2006-07 in the New Jersey Devils’ penultimate game of the regular season. Brodeur sat out the Devils’ final game of that regular season.

“We will split them for two reasons,” Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn said. “The first is, I know you can get hurt in any given game, but we’re not going to put ourselves in jeopardy. If (Holtby) got hurt in a back-to-back, you open yourself up. You’re just going to get shot at (by second-guessers). And we have to keep Philipp ready. So, he’s got to play a game."

Of the Capitals' 14 sets of back-to-back games this season Grubauer (8-8-1) has started the back end 11 times. The three times Holtby (47-9-6) has started on back-to-back days he went 3-0-0 in those second games. One of those starts (Jan. 17) came after he was pulled early in the second period the game before. Grubauer last started a game on April 2.

“The hope is we can get it done tonight (with Holtby’s 48th win) and that will give him one kick at the can (either in St. Louis on Saturday or at home against Anaheim on Sunday) and at the very least it will be a tie," Korn said. "And if he doesn’t break it, he still tied it in about 15 games less. So be it.”     

In 2006-07 it took Brodeur 78 games to break Bernie Parent’s record of 47 victories. With a win tonight Holtby would tie Brodeur’s record in his 65th start. Holtby and Korn agree there is no sense chasing an individual record when there is a greater goal at stake.

“It’ll be the same as it has been all year, I’m sure,” Holtby said of splitting this weekend’s games with Grubauer. “The only thing we’re preparing for is playoffs right now. There’s nothing else going into it. We’re just going to try to win three games. Win this first one and move on.”

Korn, who has been coaching NHL goaltenders since 1991, said he understands fans’ fascination with Holtby breaking a record held by a future Hall of Fame goaltender like Brodeur. But he doesn’t want Holtby or the Capitals obsessing over it.

“It’s a remarkable season for him regardless,” Korn said. “While you want to break records, it’s not an individual sport. It’s a team sport, which is one of the reasons he’s more into this record than any other.

“Let’s put it this way: If a guy hits his 499th home run, the odds of him getting that 500th home run in the next game aren’t very good.  It’s no different than when Ovi was going to break (Sergei) Fedorov’s (Russian goal) record. Did he break it the first game he had the opportunity? No. Second game? No. Third game? No.

“But eventually he was going to break it because he was going to keep playing, right? We’re running out of time. Do you think if Ovi was trying to break that record now that Barry (Trotz) would play him 40 minutes a night? The answer is no.

“When you start messing around with the natural order of the position, you mess with goalie Mother Nature. Goalie Mother Nature bites you in the backside. So we aren’t going to do that.

“This is a team game and there is way more at stake. We want this to happen but when you go out of your way to try to make it happen you’re less likely to make it happen.”

MORE CAPITALS: Penguins expect a 'playoff feel' Thursday against the Caps

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.

RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE

Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.