NEW YORK – The Capitals were trailing the Rangers 3-1 and their defense was looking like a revolving door at Saks Fifth Avenue through the first period of Sunday night’s game at Madison Square Garden.
That left coach Barry Trotz with a decision to make. Should he pull goaltender Braden Holtby, who had allowed three goals on 15 first-period shots? Or should he leave him in for the start of the second period?
“I thought Holts had a little bit of a shaky first,” Trotz said after watching Holtby and his teammates pull it together for s rousing 7-3 come-from-behind win. “I said to him, ‘You were real close to being yanked.’
“But what I loved about it is that I let him stay in there. Great goalies find a way to get their game back together and he did. I thought he was really solid after the first.
“The leash was going to be a little shorter in the second period, but he just pulled it together and I thought he was real strong.”
Holtby stopped the final 21 shots he faced and received goals from six different forwards, including two by Justin Williams, to earn his league-leading 21st win of the season. Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson also score for the Capitals, who won for the fifth straight time and now tied with the Dallas Stars atop the NHL standings with 50 points.
“It’s a good two-way street,” Williams said. “He bails us out when we have a turnover or when we’re not playing our game. He can throw up 40 saves and steal the game for us. On the other end of the spectrum he can look at us and say, ‘Boys, I’m not my greatest, but I know we can get a win.’ Faith runs both ways.”
In his previous start on Friday night, Holtby was pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots and the Capitals rallied to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3. The start of Sunday’s game looked eerily similar and was reminiscent of the last time the Caps visited the Garden on Nov. 3, when Holtby allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-2 loss.
“The third goal that went in is one that can’t go in, especially at that time of the game,” Holtby said, referring to Chris Kreider’s shot that beat him inside the far post on a play in which he overcommitted to his right. “Guys did a phenomenal job of bearing down and scoring some big goals. The past two games we’ve kind of been feeling it a bit in the offensive zone, which is good. But I definitely owe them one in the future.”
Holtby led the Caps onto the ice in the second period and they began chipping away at the Rangers, who have suddenly gone 3-9-2 after starting the season 16-3-2.
Kuznetsov and Oshie scored just 1:36 apart to tie the score and after Johansson drew a tripping penalty on Oscar Lindberg, Ovechkin made the Rangers pay when he rifled a snap shot off the cartching arm of Henrik Lundqvist and into the net for this 17th goal of the season and seventh on the power play.
“We knew we could do it if we stay on them,” said Ovechkin, who is now five goals off the pace being set by Dallas’ Jamie Benn (22). “We were able to make it physical and stay on them. It created opportunities for us to score goals on the power play.”
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