Big-Game Braden Leads Caps Over Lightning, 2-1 (SO)

Braden Holtby celebrates the shootout win

Braden Holtby celebrates after stoning Lecavalier in the shootout. (Photo credit: Scott Audette)

Alex Ovechkin celebrates with his teammates after scoring the game's decisive goal. (Photo credit: Mike Carlson)

Alex Ovechkin celebrates with his teammates after scoring the game's decisive goal. (Photo credit: Mike Carlson)

The first sign of trouble came when a wicked shot by Tampa Bay center Nate Thompson struck Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth in the helmet mere seconds into the game.

The helmet snaps broke. His colorful mask fell off and skidded to the boards. Neuvirth doubled over, apparently unable to make the ringing in his head stop. He allowed a soft power play goal and departed after the first period, forcing the Washington Capitals goalie carousel to turn to third-stringer Braden Holtby in a divisional showdown with a hard-hitting playoff atmosphere.

Capitals fans have been trying to figure out which one of Washington’s three baby-faced goalies is the future of the franchise all year long. Holtby tried to stake his claim with a brilliant 21-save effort in a pivotal 2-1 shootout win over the Lightning. The Capitals now lead the Lightning by two points in the Southeast Division.

Holtby saved the Capitals with a brilliant arm save on Simon Gagne in the second period. Holtby did not allow a goal on three shots in the shootout. Sorry, Dominic Moore. Better luck next time, Adam Hall. No sale, Lecavalier. The Lightning captain may have knocked Neuvirth out, but he couldn’t do a thing with Holtby in the shootout. Holtby stood up to the towering Lecavalier, all 6 feet, 4 inches of him, and redirected the puck away with his left pad.

Holtby was the night’s Star of the Game on an evening in which he probably expected to sit around, sip some Gatorade and be a spectator.

Stakes were high, and the Capitals wanted to ride Neuvirth, who now owns the franchise record for most wins by a rookie. Before the game, Lightning star Steven Stamkos proclaimed this “our biggest game of the year.”

The Lightning, losers of four straight, played with a hint of desperation. Vincent Lecavalier threw his body around with reckless abandon. They played with urgency on power plays. Sean Bergenheim scored off a redirect of a Martin St. Louis shot to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 12:30 to go in the first. It seemed as if Neuvirth was simply screened and could not see the high shot, but who knows how he was feeling in the crease?

So the Capitals fell behind again in the first period. Not that it ever seems to matter. The Capitals are 9-3 in their last 12 games in which they fell behind in the opening stanza. Alexander Semin tied the game in regulation in the third period off a creative wrist shot blast.

The Capitals dominated the overtime period, with Ovechkin almost scoring, like, 57 times. Alas, Dwayne Roloson somehow managed to hang in there, including on a Brooks Laich breakaway set up by a relentless Ovechkin back check.

Ovechkin scored in the shootout, possibly murdering an innocent Gatorade bottle in the process, leading the Capitals to a fifth win in a row. This one point might be costly. Caps bottle Lightning 2-1.

  • In a rare admission of an actual head injury, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told Pierre McGuire during an on-air interview with Versus that Michal Neuvirth was replaced due to the shot he took off the helmet. After the game, he elaborated to the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera, saying that “part of the metal from the mask went into Neuvirth’s eye after that first shot. They got it out though. He’s going to be okay.” If Neuvy is forced to miss any time, that means more Holtby. And frankly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Speaking of injured players, Nicklas Backstrom was nowhere to be found on the bench after re-injuring his left hand in the second period. The Versus folks couldn’t stop talking about how much the Capitals will miss Dave Steckel’s ability to win faceoffs. But let’s be real here. Isn’t Jason Arnott slightly more important to the cause, particularly if Backstrom must miss time? Those Versus goons acted like the Caps traded Steckel for a Chipotle steak burrito and a few hockey pucks.
  • Suddenly, the Capitals are looking like a potential threat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals are now just three points behind floundering-but-still-in-first- place Philadelphia and one behind second place Boston.
  • Random thought: Perhaps you Capitals fans can explain why the Lightning chose not to use Steven Stamkos early in the shootout. He’s only one of the best pure goal scorers to come into the NHL in the last two decades. I’d prefer to have him out there to set the tone every single time.
  • Speaking of Stamkos, Bruce Boudreau went after him in comments to the press Monday morning. “Stamkos dives every two seconds,” he said. “You start to get a hatred.” Too bad Versus spent the entire first and second intermissions responding by calling Alex Ovechkin a diver. More on that later.
  • Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott celebrate with Alex Semin after his game-tying goal in the third. (Photo credit: Mike Carlson)

    Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott celebrate with Alex Semin after his game-tying goal in the third. (Photo credit: Mike Carlson)

    The Capitals had two scoring chances in the first, and another two in the second, which were thirty minutes apart. The Capitals gave up eight scoring chances while shorthanded, and had none themselves on the powerplay. Finally, the Capitals had almost as many scoring chances in 1:37 of OT (6) as they did the rest of the game (8). Suffice to say, they really wanted it in the end. Our advice to the team: #StayAngry.

Does it even matter who the Capitals put in goal anymore? They seem to be fine no matter who they play. Braden Holtby didn’t allow a goal after coming in to relieve the injured Michal Neuvirth. He was spectacular in a 2-1 Capitals win over the Tampa Bay Lightning that brings them one tantalizing step closer to the Southeast Division crown.

The Capitals will now return home and face the second-worst team in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers, at Verizon Center Wednesday night. Is it a must win, just like tonight? You better believe it. Will it be easy? Probably not. We’ll see you then.

Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg and Ian Oland.

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  • Tim

    Holtby was incredible today – stone-cold and didn’t get rattled by anything. The Caps’ goaltending future is bright, between Holtby, Neuvy, and Varly.

    There’s been a discussion on Japers’ as to why the Bolts went with the shooters they did, and what it comes down to is they used their best SO shooters. Stamkos, as good a shooter as he is, is terrible on SO’s – 4-19 career. He is 0-5 this season. Likewise, St. Louis and Lecavalier are terrible – 0-3 and 0-4 this season. Hall is 2-7 this season, and Moore is 3-6. They should have used Hedman (2-6) third, instead of Lecavalier.

  • Greg

    Guy Boucher should shut his mouth about bad calls on that goalie interference… it was a perfect example of St. Lous taking a dive in the crease which caused Holtby to fall over.

  • abrlcklnthewall

    Umm… yeah… Laich tripped him. I still can’t see the contact on Holtby. We are lucky on that one, very lucky.

  • K4

    Is Pierre Maguire the absolute worst? No, Milbury is, but Pierre is very close. His interview with Laich was snarky and seemed designed to get an on-air punch. His post game with Holtby was kind of condescending. I also think a drinking game could be made out of his use of “Playoff Atmosphere” and “Intense”. I think that’s how he would describe waiting in line at the grocery store.

    Why doesn’t McPhee pull a Boudreau on Boudreau at these press conferences? “Shh..don’t speak…” And whatever got into Alex Semin this game, can we box it up and ladel it out as needed?

  • JW90

    Does anyone know who the third shootout guy would have been?

  • http://make-lemons.com michelle

    is it too soon to say NovemberSasha is back?

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  • Livia

    In the context of such an important and exciting win, this is a small point, but it was Nate Thompson’s shot, not Vincent Lecavalier’s, that hit Neuvirth’s helmet.

  • Tim

    abrickinthewall, look for St. Louis’ stick. It went right into Holtby’s leg and took him down. We didn’t get lucky – the refs called it right.

  • Katie

    Way to go Holtby! I was a little nervous when he came in just b/c he is lacking in NHL experience and it was an important, tight game, but he was excellent. I was more than a little nervous when it when to shootout, especially b/c we dominated so much in the OT and I felt like we really deserved to win it there. And Holtby’s first NHL shootout back at Verizon was not great, although it was his first at that level so I certainly didn’t hold it against him. But man. I was impressed last night! My best friend is a Stingrays season ticket holder and last year she used to complain about Holtby, said he was terrible. She texted me after the game and said, “I can’t believe how much better he’s gotten.”

    So the Bolts are making a big to-do about the disallowed goal. Is it just me, or does it seem like we have been in their shoes in that situation in the past, and it has always been disallowed? I was under the impression that it doesn’t really matter who caused a player to interfere with the goalie, he was still interfered with, and fault can be dealt with via penalities.

    JW90: good question. It would normally be Backstrom, no? I wonder if BB would have put in a new guy like Arnott.

  • 28ISGREAT

    November Sasha is BACK! (there – I said it!)

    Honestly, the Versus commentators are the WORST! Pierre looks like a dopey faced tadpole with the voice one imagines would be dubbed over an animated wet noodle. And don’t even get me started on the intermission commentators, each of whom can barely hide their disdain for the Caps as a whole.

    And if I had to hear about the “incredibly important breaking news” (i.e. Backstrom’s broken finger) one more time, I was about to scream. The Versus folks are the tabloid commentators of the sport – no doubt about it.

    Speaking of – I remember seeing someone from RMNB comment on VS letting go fo Joe B. Has there been any follow-up on the details surrounding that? I’d love to hear more about that.

    Finally – I’m very cautious about Holtby being in net. I’d be more supportive if it were November – but its not. And who are we kidding – can anyone honestly say they’d pick Holtby in a Game 7 scenario? Varly can’t get better soon enough – period.

  • Bill

    You didn’t see St. Louis stick hit Holtby? It def. hit him as he dove into the crease causing Holtby to fall over.

  • JW90

    @ Katie….

    From the guys we have, I would have thought either Marcus or Arnott (I remember him putting in MJ90 at fourth in a game earlier in the season). Arnott is 50% in his career on 6 attempts. Sturm is 30% on 27 attempts, could have been him but I think Bruce would have put him in at second. Maybe 19 would have been good to come back to take his shootout attempt…

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