ST. LOUIS — Martin Brodeur and Braden Holtby shook hands, and with that, their new connection seemed to be cemented. One was a goaltending legend, and the other had taken a significant step to one day joining him among those ranks. This was a congratulations.
With the Washington Capitals’ 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, Holtby got his 48th win of the season, tying the NHL record that Broduer set for the most in a single campaign. In 2006-07, Brodeur did it in 78 starts for the New Jersey Devils, and Holtby reached that mark in his 66th start on Saturday.
Fitting for an accomplishment that Holtby has repeatedly referred to as a team one, he got some significant help from his teammates. Washington’s captain was adamant about wanting to help Holtby at least tie the record, and against the Blues, Alex Ovechkin recorded a hat trick, reaching a milestone of his own with his 50th goal of the season.
“It’s not an individual thing,” Holtby said. “You come back to alumni things years in the future, and you can share it with the same guys who have been a part of it. We can look back on it together, so it’s pretty neat that way.”
Brodeur was in Washington last month with the Blues — he serves as an assistant general manager in the St. Louis front office — but Holtby tended the Verizon Center bench in a baseball cap, a rare night off for him. Their names had been intertwined for months as Holtby chased the record that Brodeur set nine years ago, and with every Holtby win, Brodeur’s name would be mentioned and it’d get back to him.
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said after Saturday’s game that backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer will “probably” start in Washington’s season finale on Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks, meaning Holtby is unlikely to have the opportunity to pass Brodeur with a 49th win.
“Me and him will be in the same boat when the next one comes in [to challenge the record],” Brodeur said on Saturday night in the press box. “At least I’ll have somebody to share it. Now, I’m by myself and don’t know how to react. I think it’s great.”
Holtby’s last two chances to tie the record resulted in overtime losses by the Capitals, and he said he was starting to worry it was becoming a distraction. Ovechkin told reporters to “let it go” when asked about it after the Capitals’ loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.
“I wasn’t kidding when I said it was hard,” Brodeur said. “People thought he was going to wrap this up like about two weeks ago. It’s just hard. You get to those last few games to tie it or break it, and it takes a toll on you a little bit, you know? You’re thinking about it; players are almost overdoing it for you.”
The team responded with one of its most dominant performances against the Blues on Saturday, all but securing the result after two periods with a three-goal lead. Holtby didn’t have to do much, seeing just 10 shots through 40 minutes and 20 for the game.
It was a night of personal milestones, and not just for Holtby. Ovechkin scored two goals within three minutes in the first period, and then added his third in the third period. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin is the first player to earn a hat trick in the same game he reached 50 goals since Corey Perry in 2011. He is also the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in three consecutive seasons twice.
Jason Chimera scored his 20th goal of the season. Nicklas Backstrom got his 50th assist of the year.
“It was full commitment from start to finish in all areas,” Holtby said. “Guys were working hard. Smart plays and hard plays. It was Capitals hockey, and games like that is what got us all these wins.”
Holtby was a 16-year-old when Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, then with the Vancouver Canucks, were in a race to set the wins record during the 2006-07 season. Brodeur set the record with 48 wins, and Luongo finished with 47. Before that, legendary Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent had owned the record with 47 wins during the 1973-74 season.
It took 33 years to topple that mark, and before the game, former NHL goaltender and current TV analyst Darren Pang told Holtby that Brodeur broke the record in 2007 in front of Parent in Philadelphia. Holtby never considered the record a personal goal entering the season, aiming instead for 40 wins again because that’s usually enough for a top goaltender to guide his team to the playoffs.
“We tried to play for him and try to get him this win,” Ovechkin said. “Last two games, I think we were close, and we missed it. We were happy for him and he deserves it. He’s the best goalie in the league right now. It’s pretty huge for him.”
One member of the elite company Holtby joined congratulated him with a handshake after the game. First, Holtby was the center of a group hug by his teammates.
“He probably doesn’t think about it right now, but after when his career is done, he’s going to look back on it and think it’s a cool thing,” Backstrom said. “For us guys, we’re really happy for him. He really deserves it, the way he’s been playing this year. We’re happy for him.”