RALEIGH – Clinging to a one-goal lead on Thursday, the Capitals failed to clear the defensive zone late in the third period and the Carolina Hurricanes made a hard push to tie the game. Sebastian Aho got to a loose puck on the doorstep, but he was denied by the right toe of Braden Hotlby. Brett Pesce grabbed the rebound in the high slot and passed to Nino Niederreiter down low looking for the redirect, but Holtby was there again with the pad and the glove to freeze the play and deny the frenzied attack.
When the Caps needed him the most on Thursday, Holtby was there.
That has been a common theme of late as Holtby seems to be hitting his stride just at the right time as the team prepares for what they hope will be another lengthy playoff run.
“I think everyone, we’re getting into that zone and [Holtby’s] no different,” Brett Connolly said. “He’s arguably our best player. We need him to be playing at a high level. He’s extremely focused right now and ready for another playoff run.”
By his standards, Holtby has had a pedestrian season with a .910 save percentage and 2.85 GAA. Since March 1, however, Holtby has clearly upped his game. In his past 12 appearances, he is tied for first in the NHL with eight wins and has a .915 save percentage and 2.25 goals against average.
Holtby’s win on Thursday was his 30th of the season which puts him in some elite company. This season is Holtby’s fifth straight 30-win season making him just the 12th goalie in NHL history to hit that streak.
“Once again statistically, we're looking at another [30-win season] from him,” Todd Reirden said. “That's pretty amazing when you start to think about it. Not many goalies in the league that have done that five years consecutively.”
Turn the calendar back one year and Holtby was being outplayed by Philipp Grubauer as both players competed for the starting job heading into the playoffs. It was a goalie battle Holtby ultimately would lose as Grubauer was named the starter heading into Game 1 of the playoffs. Holtby took back the starting role by Game 3 and never looked back, posting a .922 save percentage and 2.16 GAA in 23 games to help Washington claim the Cup.
The Caps do not win the Cup without Holtby playing at an elite level. Just ask Alex Tuch.
This year, there is no goalie competition. There is just Holtby, once again rounding into playoff form at just the right time.
“You don’t get opportunities with a good team like this very often,” Connolly said, “And hopefully we can keep pushing and keep playing well and help him out as we can because he’s locked in. It’s good to see because he was obviously a big part of us winning the Cup last year.”
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