Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.
Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.
But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.
Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.
"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."
Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.
Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.
"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."
Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.
Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.
As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.
Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.
"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."
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