NHL playoffs 2018: Capitals' Braden Holtby makes 24 saves, records first shutout of season in Game 6 win

Braden Holtby stepped up when the Washington Capitals needed him the most.

With Washington’s season on the line, Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday to force a decisive Game 7. Despite leading the Capitals with 34 wins during the regular season, Holtby’s performance in Game 6 marked the first time all season where he recorded a shutout. It’s a drought that spanned across 70 games and into the 2018 playoffs. 

“I’ve been here four years,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game. “Braden has grown and Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club. You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. 

“Braden is a true pro. He finds ways to make a difference and he does.”

Washington dictated much of the game against Tampa Bay, but when the Lightning offense started to get into a rhythm, Holtby was there to shut them down. After Jay Beagle committed a hooking penalty 20 seconds into the second period, Holtby didn’t flinch at Tampa Bay’s power play unit, which has six goals against the Capitals goaltender in the series.

Holtby easily corralled Steven Stamkos’ shot on the Lightning’s man-advantage; the only one Tampa Bay managed to put on net. The sequence was a relief for Caps fans knowing their franchise goaltender was back to his normal ways. Throughout the regular season, Holtby didn’t look like his vintage self from years past. The 28-year-old, who won the Vezina Trophy two years ago and runner-up honors last season, saw his numbers slightly dip as he entered his eighth season with the Capitals.

Holtby finished the season with 34 wins in 54 games, eighth-best among NHL goaltenders. But Trotz opted to start Philip Grubauer over Holtby to start the postseason. It was the break Holtby needed. Since relieving Grubauer back in the conference quarterfinals, the Saskatchewan native holds a .919 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average. He became the first Capitals goaltender since Semyon Varlamov in 2009 to record a shutout in an elimination game. 

Holtby will once again be called upon to follow up his shutout when the Capitals travel to Amalie Arena for Game 7. In a series highlighted by two dynamic and powerful offenses, it’s likely that the final game of the series will come down to a battle of the goaltenders.

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