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With iconic save, Braden Holtby joins John Riggins and Jayson Werth in D.C. sports lore

The Save. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

The Save’s place among the most iconic plays in D.C. sports history will ultimately be determined by what happens over the remainder of the Stanley Cup finals, which the Capitals evened at a game apiece with a 3-2 win in the desert Wednesday. If Washington goes on to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history, the legend of Braden Holtby’s stick sorcery to deny Alex Tuch’s one-timer with two minutes to play will only grow. It already cracks the shortlist of the city’s greatest sports moments.

Holtby’s incredible denial, which former Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig called the greatest he’s ever seen, evoked memories of Semyon Varlamov’s robbery of Sidney Crosby late in the second period of Game 1 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. The plays looked eerily similar.

“That’s got to be the highlight of the year, it’s got to be,” Capitals defenseman Mike Green said after Washington’s 3-2 win in 2009, echoing some of the ways Holtby’s teammates described Wednesday’s game-saving stop. “That’s a tap-in. I was out there and I seen it. Nothing made sense. I could see the net, so I was circling back to the bench. I thought I was a minus.”

Braden Holtby’s mind-blowing save was ‘maybe the save of a lifetime’

The Capitals won Game 2 but lost the series in seven games. Varlamov’s save was mostly forgotten, a highlight from another early-round exit. Given the stakes Wednesday, with Washington in the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time and needing a win to avoid a 2-0 hole, The Save will likely be talked about for years to come, no matter what happens over the next three-to-five games. For now, it already ranks somewhere among these other iconic D.C. sports moments:

“70 Chip”
For many D.C. sports fans, John Riggins’s game-winning touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII remains the gold standard. Facing fourth and one and trailing the Dolphins 17-13 early in the fourth quarter on Jan. 30, 1983, “The Diesel” broke cornerback Don McNeal’s attempted tackle en route to the end zone for a 44-yard score that put Washington ahead for good. Riggins finished with 38 carries for 166 yards and one iconic run in the first of the Redskins’ three Super Bowl titles.

“I wanted to make him bounce outside, but I never did get my arms all the way around him” McNeal said after the game. “He was like a train.”

John Riggins’s Super Bowl touchdown run inspired a beer

The Werthquake

Jayson Werth’s walk-off home run to beat the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 11, 2012 is proof that iconic moments can come from series that aren’t ultimately won. Werth ended a 13-pitch at-bat against St. Louis’s Lance Lynn by depositing a fastball into the visitors’ bullpen to give Washington a 2-1 win.

“It’s almost like I blacked out, for sure,” Werth said. “It’s like a Will Ferrell moment.”

Washington would lose Game 5 after blowing a 6-0 lead, but Werth’s home run remains the most memorable moment in Nationals history.

Darryl Grant’s INT for a TD
Riggins’s iconic run may not have happened if not for Grant’s interception return for a touchdown in the 1982 NFC championship game. With 6:55 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Redskins leading the Cowboys 24-17, the defensive tackle picked off a Gary Hogeboom pass that was tipped by Dexter Manley and rumbled 10 yards into the end zone to set off a raucous celebration at RFK Stadium.

Darrell Green’s Punt Return
The Redskins began their march to their second Super Bowl title on Jan. 10, 1988 with a 21-17 playoff win over the Bears at Soldier Field. Darrell Green’s 52-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, which ended with the Redskins’ cornerback hurdling Cap Boso, provided the winning score.

Bob Dandridge’s Jumper
This one comes courtesy of D.C. sports fan and former Post reporter David Aldridge, who re-ranked his own top five plays in D.C. sports history after Wednesday’s game. Aldridge put Holtby’s save fourth and Dandridge’s game-winning jumper, which came in the final seconds of the Bullets’ 107-105 Game 7 win over the Spurs in the 1979 Eastern Conference finals, fifth. Dandridge finished with 37 points in the game, as Washington overcame a 42-point effort from George Gervin at Capital Centre to advance to the NBA Finals for a second straight year.

“There was no play,” Bullets Coach Dick Motta said afterward. “It was just bullfeathers (or something like that). I just told Bobby to go out there and win the damn game. He felt it. He has that right. We just told the other guys to get the hell out of the way.”

The NBA champion Bullets were the toast of D.C. 40 years ago, if only for a short time

Joe Juneau’s OT Goal
Juneau clinched the Capitals’ first trip to the Stanley Cup finals with an overtime winner on a rebound off a shot by Brian Bellows in Game 6 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals at Buffalo.

“I guess everybody wants to be the hero in a game like this,” Juneau said. “I looked at them just before we went into the overtime and told assistant coach Tim Army he was looking at Neil Armstrong. It’s good to put a little pressure on yourself and try to do it. This is the goal that brings you into the finals. It is the biggest deal.”

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal to close out Pittsburgh in Game 6 of this year’s playoffs could supplant Juneau’s heroics, should the Capitals go on to win the Stanley Cup.

Remembering the Capitals’ run to the 1998 Stanley Cup finals

Senators win 1924 World Series
Twitter would’ve erupted had it existed on Oct. 10, 1924, when the Senators captured the World Series title in the 12th inning of Game 7 at Griffith Stadium. Muddy Ruel scored the winning run when Earl McNeely’s groundball toward third based took a bad hop and bounced into left field. Walter Johnson earned the win after pitching four scoreless innings in relief.

Read more on the Capitals:

At Capital One Arena, a rowdy, joyful Game 2 celebration for Caps fans

Two in the box? Capitals lived through it to put one in the books

Caps fans drove more than 500 miles for the watch party

Ted Leonsis surprises 200 employees with a trip to Vegas to watch the Caps

Game 1 of Stanley Cup finals draws record TV ratings in D.C. and Las Vegas