(Mike Carlson/Associated Press)


Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had one of his strongest starts of the season Thursday night in a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning — until the third period.

In the early going as Washington worked to establish a three-goal lead it was Holtby that kept the Lightning in check. He made a flashy glove save on Teddy Purcell at the end of the first to keep it 1-1. When the Capitals were allowing Tampa Bay too much time and too many opportunities in the second period with a 2-1 lead, Holtby made a sliding pad stop on Steven Stamkos and then a kick-save on Cory Conacher with less than three minutes left in the frame.

“That’s what we’ve needed. I haven’t been coming up with those as much as I should be. It’s my job to make those saves,” Holtby said. “It’s my contribution to a win. I’m going to continue to try to make those.”

When the Capitals couldn’t contain Tampa Bay’s push in a comeback attempt, though, Holtby looked a little unsure. Teddy Purcell beat him on a bad-angle shot and when a turnover by Joel Ward led to a Nate Thompson breakaway, he misread the play and tried unsuccessfully to poke check the puck away.

Holtby said he saw Thompson lose control of the puck enough that he thought the poke check was possible. Coach Adam Oates called the play a “gamble” but that otherwise “Holts played great”.

“When he kind of lost the puck there in front of him, it’s a hard play if you just stay patient there,” Holtby explained. “He doesn’t have control of the puck [so] because he can make a quick move or shoot it, it’s hard that way. Once I saw him lose it, I thought I’d be able to get out there and get it before he did but I read it wrong and that’s a bad mistake.

“Luckily it didn’t cost us, luckily we battled back,” Holtby said. “But that can’t happen.”

Even with the mistake, Holtby finished with 27 saves for the third consecutive game. He’s backstopped the Capitals in each of their victories on this three-game winning streak and has a .910 save percentage (81 of 89) in that span.