Jay Beagle called it the “save of the year.”
“Maybe the save of a lifetime,” the Caps’ veteran center noted.
“Thank God he’s our goalie,” said captain Alex Ovechkin.
“Once he made that save, I knew we were gonna win the game,” added Washington Coach Barry Trotz.
The only one who didn’t seem impressed was the man who will forever be credited with composing the play that secured the first-ever Stanley Cup finals victory for a franchise that began playing hockey 44 years ago.
“A guy made a good play,” Braden Holtby told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after the game. “That’s hockey sometimes.”
Only it isn’t. Not usually. The stakes aren’t usually so high, what looks like the inevitable doesn’t typically feel so close.
Holtby had already more than earned his per diem in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory, batting away an onslaught of Golden Knight shots during the Caps’ successful 5-on-3 penalty-kill earlier in the third period. The Caps were two minutes away from the win but victory hardly felt assured. That’s when the puck bounced hard off the backboard behind Holtby’s net and was greeted by a charging Cody Eakin, the Golden Knights’ veteran center.
Holtby slid to his left to seal the corner, but Eakin zipped a pass in front of the net to teammate Alex Tuch, who wound up for a one-timer.
“My heart stopped on the bench,” said Caps’ forward Andre Burakovsky.
Holtby didn’t have time to slide to his right, and as Tuch fired, the goaltender extended himself as far as he could. Tuch appeared to have a wide-open net but his bullet was met by Holtby’s stick and promptly smothered beneath it.
“I’ve seen a lot of those kind of saves before,” said defenseman John Carlson, “but with the magnitude of the situation and just how strong he had to be … that was probably nicest one I’ve seen.”
Fans and teammates alike were breathless – first from fear and then from the eruption of relief and joy. As Nicklas Backstrom synthesized it, everyone sporting a red sweater Wednesday night went through a breakneck swing of emotions. “I was like, ‘Oh no,’ ” the Caps’ center said. “But then I was like, ‘Oh yes.’ ”
Said Beagle: “I was just yelling in his ear. He was probably telling me to shut up. I was just so fired up he made that stop.”
The Golden Knights, too, immediately knew what The Save meant: the series would be even as it moved east to Washington. Vegas had tried to seize momentum and Holtby stopped it and buried it with his stick. “This time of year, you need things like that to move on,” said Nate Schmidt, a Golden Knights defenseman.
On the night, Holtby stopped 37 of 39 Vegas shots. He looked every bit like the steely-eyed player who shut out Tampa Bay to lock up the Eastern Conference title. But it was The Save that had everyone buzzing. The stop quickly swept over social media, ready-made for every highlight show.
“Greatest save I’ve ever seen,” tweeted former Caps’ goaltender Olie Kolzig, who’s seen and saved more than a few in his days in the crease, which include the Caps’ last trip to the finals in 1998.
Holtby wasn’t flipping through his phone, liking tweets or replaying the video. He answered every postgame question thoughtfully but with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for filling out a grocery list.
“I try to disconnect myself from social media,” he said. “We’re a group trying to win hockey games. Whoever has to step up to make plays, we’re all there as a team to support each other. We get huge plays from different guys throughout the playoffs. It’s one of those things to help us win a game. Now we move forward to the next game. We have a goal in mind that’s a lot bigger than some save and social media.”
He’s right, of course. He needn’t dwell on a single play or discuss The Save ad nauseam. But Caps’ fans will – throughout this series and very likely for years to come.
Scott Allen contributed to this story.
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