The Rangers couldn’t have drawn the play up any better. Just as a bench minor for too many men on the ice expired, springing Chris Kreider from the penalty box, Washington defenseman John Carlson bobbled the puck at the blueline.
The momentary lapse was enough to send New York’s rookie speedster on a breakaway and the chance to even the score in 1-0 game. Braden Holtby stood his ground, though, and turned aside Kreider’s wrist shot easily with 17 minutes 3 seconds gone in the first period.
It was the kind of momentum-building stop the Capitals needed at that moment. They turned to rush back up ice and just 11 seconds after Holtby’s save, Jason Chimera scored a greasy goal to increase Washington’s lead to 2-0.
The stop on Kreider was the highlight moment on a bounce-back performance for Holtby, who admitted he struggled to maintain his focus in the series opener when he faced just 14 total shots. Holtby stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced in Game 2 and wasn’t at fault for either of the Rangers’ two goals.
“Just tried to be patient on the breakaway. In the past I’ve got a little ahead of myself in making moves first,” Holtby said. “Just try to be patient, waited him out and he tried to go five-hole. Made a save and then Chimmer showed he’s probably the fastest guy in the world there. That’s a huge play for us by a veteran guy and a very character play.”
The Capitals were equally complementary of Holtby’s contribution to the play. They were never worried about Holtby’s ability to come back with a strong outing after arguably his worst performance of the postseason in Game 1, and he backed up their confidence in him.
“You need that. Those are momentum swings in the game,” Brooks Laich said of the save against Kreider. “I’m sure if you ask Holts, he wanted to have a bounce-back performance from last game, and he did that. He came up with the saves; late in the game, too, whenever something was around the net he kicked it to the corner. Momentum swings like that can be the difference in the game.”
Said Alex Ovechkin: “It doesn’t matter how he gonna play – he gonna win or he gonna lose – he gonna stay focused. You can see how he play right now, today actually, stay focused, make great saves….He keep us in the game and we win.”