WASHINGTON — The save.
If the Washington Capitals manage to win the Stanley Cup, we’ll look back five or 10 years from now at Game 2 and shake our collective heads.
Remember that save? Remember how Braden Holtby literally stole a 3-2 win away from the Vegas Golden Knights? Remember how it changed the series?
“That save,” said defenceman John Carlson. “I’ve seen a lot of them before, but just the magnitude of it.”
“You could see the emotion on our bench,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “Once he made that save, I knew we were going to win the game.”
With 1:59 remaining of a one-goal game, the Golden Knights dumped the puck into the offensive zone and gave chase. It should have been a routine play. But the puck caromed off the glass and squirted in front of Washington’s net. Cody Eakin pounced on it and fed a cross-crease pass to Alex Tuch.
Holtby should not have had a chance. Instead, he scrambled and dove across the crease and got a paddle on the shot, smothering the puck and a much-needed win that evened up the best-of-seven series 1-1.
“You’re thinking, ‘Yeah right,’” said forward Jay Beagle. “Holt just made the save of the year. The save of his lifetime.”
“I’ve got to bury that, though,” said Tuch.
The series now shifts to Washington, D.C. for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and next Monday, respectively.
Washington might be missing top-line centre Evgeny Kuznetsov for one or both games after he left the first period of Game 2 with an upper-body injury. But if Holtby can repeat his 37-save performance and the Capitals can squeeze another three-point game out of Lars Eller, they might be fine.
“That’s hockey,” Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant said of Holtby. “He was probably the difference in the hockey game.”
After a back-and-forth 6-4 win by Vegas in Game 1, both Holtby and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury had vowed to be better in Game 2. And for the most part, they lived up to their word.
Early in the first period, Fleury made a barrel-roll save on T.J. Oshie that would have brought a smile to Dominik Hasek’s face. At the other end, Holtby was even sharper.
The 28-year-old had begun the playoffs as Washington’s backup goalie, but he is a big reason why the Capitals have made it further than they had before in 20 years. It was Holtby who recorded back-to-back shutouts against the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the Eastern Conference final.
And in Game 2 against the Golden Knights, it was Holtby who stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period — including every attempt during a crucial 5-on-3 penalty kill — that turned this series around.
“He’s our rock back there,” said Beagle. “He responded well.”
As the Golden Knights have done at home this entire post-season, they took a 1-0 lead in the first period. James Neal got the credit for the goal on a defensive gaffe by Washington’s Dmitri Orlov, who tried to glove a lobbed pass but instead watched helplessly as Neal batted it out of the air for a mini-breakaway. He then beat Holtby with a wrist shot that found the top corner.
The Capitals would get one back 10 minutes later on a tic-tac-toe passing play that Eller completed. But despite ending the period tied 1-1, Washington still found itself down after losing Kuznetsov on a huge hit from Brayden McNabb.
Coming two nights after Washington’s Tom Wilson had caught Vegas’ playoff scoring leader Jonathan Marchessault with a blindside hit, you knew that the Golden Knights would be seeking retribution. And they did it by taking out a player who is leading the entire playoffs with 25 points.
It wasn’t necessarily a dirty hit. Kuznetsov had just dumped in the puck when McNabb finished a check where the initial contact point was the chest. But in the process, Kuznetsov’s left arm got squished and he immediately left the ice and went to the dressing room clutching his wrist.
While losing Kuznetsov should have been a huge blow for Washington, it had the opposite effect. The Capitals woke up in the second, scoring twice on goals from Alex Ovechkin and an unlikely source in Brooks Orpik to take a 3-1 lead.
“He’s just a battler,” Trotz said of Orpik. “He’s one of the true pros of the game.”
Before the period ended, Vegas would get one back on a power play goal from Shea Theodore. But as Holtby has done all playoffs, he kept the Capitals ahead.
The Capitals goalie might have looked shaky when he allowed five goals in Game 1. But he was locked in for Game 2. With Kuznetsov potentially out for the next game, Washington will need more of that if it intends on winning its first championship.
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