The tension was high in the final minutes of Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lighting. With just under a minute to play, Lightning forward Tanner Richard won a puck battle in the corner of the Capitals defensive zone and fed Victor Hedman at the point.
Jay Beagle went down to a knee for the block. Hedman faked and tried to step clear of Beagle before firing the wrister. Beagle stayed with him, however, and stuck the right leg out for the critical block to prevent the shot from going on net.
What was the score at that point? It was 4-0 Washington.
While the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt at that point, there was still plenty to play for as far as the Caps were concerned. They wanted to protect the shutout for Braden Holtby.
“I thought it was important to us, “ Barry Trotz said after the game.
“It's No. 1 priority,” Karl Alzner said. “When we see that we've got a comfortable lead on the scoreboard, we’ve got to lock it down and you saw a huge, huge block by Beags at the end there. That might not go as far outside of this dressing room, but inside it's really really big for us.”
At the start of the game, it looked like it was going to be an easy night for the Caps’ netminder as Washington allowed only two shots on goal in the first period. But the Lightning picked up the offense as the game went along, firing nine shots in the second period and 12 in the third.
Goalies can often find it difficult to stay loose and engaged in a game when they’re not tested, especially a netminder like Holtby who enjoys taking shots.
“Those are tough games when you've got nothing,” Trotz said. “In the first period, I didn't have them for any scoring chances. They really didn't have anything. And so, you're watching the other goaltender play and play and all of a sudden, a team like this is very dangerous.”
Holtby, however, found an interesting method to help him stay in the game, as he enjoyed the two early penalty kills the Caps faced in the first period.
“It's one of the things I've been trying to get better at so I get to feel more and more comfortable every time it happens,” Hotlby said.”It's always nice in those at least there's a couple kills, something that you're feeling like you're in the game. I just focus on every play instead of every shot to kind of get in the game that way.”
It seemed to work. As the Lightning raised their game, so did Holtby, easily turning aside each of the 23 shots he faced for his 26th career shutout. Holtby now has three for the season, already tying his total from last year’s Vezina-winning campaign.
But the shutout does not belong solely to Holtby. For a Capitals team that has struggled to play with a lead or put together a consistent 60-minute performance, maintaining the goose egg on the scoreboard was just as important for the team.
“We've let up a couple late ones in a couple games this year already so it's nice to button down the hatch when we need to and I think that's going to be big,” Carlson said. “We've lost a couple too many leads. It's something that we talked about and executed I think. In the second period they came out with a pretty good push, but in the third period when we really buttoned things down, I think we didn't give up much so it's a positive.”
“It’s big for us,” Alzner said.
Big enough for a player like Beagle to risk injury by stepping in front of a shot by Hedman to preserve a 4-0 lead with less than a minute to go in the game? You better believe it.
“We just wanted to make sure we preserved that,” Trotz said of the shutout. “I thought it was a good statement for a team [in the] last game before a break.”
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