NEW YORK — Braden Holtby could only hold out so long. For nearly half the game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, the Washington Capitals’ netminder withstood a ferocious barrage of shots from the New York Rangers, who seemed to have a perpetual power play for much of that span.
He thwarted wrist shots, slap shots, point-blank chances and a few tips for good measure. Whether the shot came from the Rangers’ top offensive threats or their bottom-six role players, Holtby turned them all aside, preserving Washington’s initial one-goal lead until finally they found a way to crack his armor.
On New York’s 30th shot of the game, just 7 minutes 39 seconds into the second period, Carl Hagelin scored on a redirection. The tally only tied the score, but it put New York en route to a 2-1 win over the Capitals, who saw their winning streak snapped after three games.
Holtby was spectacular, finishing with 38 saves on 40 shots, but his teammates couldn’t come up with the support to help him cash in a victory.
“You know he’s not going to make every single one of them. He made more than enough to try and win us the game tonight,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “It’s as well as I’ve seen him play. He gave us lots of opportunities to win it, unfortunately we couldn’t help him out.”
Washington caught the Rangers off guard early in taking a 1-0 lead just 79 seconds into the contest when John Carlson blasted a slap shot from the top of the right circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves) on his blocker side.
For the rest of the first period, though, it was clearly Holtby’s spotlight as New York found its footing. He made a stellar stop on Hagelin at the top of the crease. Then, on the Rangers’ first power play, Holtby had a left toe save on Ryan Callahan in the slot.
New York had three power plays in the opening period but passed up multiple shot opportunities and finished with just five shots on the man-advantage before the intermission. The Rangers’ other special teams unit fared much better, however, requiring even more heroics from Holtby.
With the Capitals on their first power play of the night, penalty killers Callahan and Jeff Halpern hemmed them in their own zone and peppered Holtby with three quality shots in seven seconds, but the netminder was up to the task. To close out his 20-minute highlight reel, Holtby made a pad stop on Marian Gaborik with less than four minutes remaining in the period.
“It felt comfortable,” Holtby said. “[If] you break it down, I don’t know if we gave up any more scoring chances than we usually do. It was just a lot of shots in the first couple periods, and that’s my job to stay in it and give us a chance to win.”
Holtby may have played down his performance, but his teammates certainly didn’t.
“Amazing. I’d describe him as Braden. That’s the way he plays,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He was calm, you could tell the way he was playing the puck was amazing. Didn’t rush anything.”
Early in the second Tom Poti, who was playing in his first game since Feb. 5 because Mike Green was out with a lower-body injury, lost track of Hagelin down low and the left wing managed to redirect a shot-pass by Ryan McDonagh to tie the score at 1.
“We never stopped grinding,” Hagelin said, “And that’s when you know sooner or later the puck is going to go in.”
The Capitals had two prime chances to take another lead in the final nine minutes of the second period, both by Wojtek Wolski, but the winger couldn’t convert on either. With 8:32 remaining in the middle period, Mathieu Perreault found Wolski alone in the slot driving to the net, but Lundqvist made his best stop of the night with a deft blocker save.
The next came with 5:22 left before the second intermission when on a two-on-one, Nicklas Backstrom sent a smooth pass to Wolski, who missed the net wide on the shot. He missed the net earlier in the second period as well.
“We want to score goals, we want to give [Holtby] support. I think we had a ton of chances, we just didn’t capitalize,” Wolski said, criticizing himself for missing the net on the odd-man rush. “I thought I could go across the net because I assumed that he would probably push pretty hard to come towards my side. I just missed the net twice and there was two great opportunities that should be goals.”
Alzner tripped Brad Richards 4:18 into the third, and the Rangers needed just seven seconds on the power play, their fourth of the game, to take advantage.
After a faceoff win by Richards, the Rangers zipped the puck around with a pretty series of passes. Rick Nash protected the puck and sent it back to Richards, who on the left point found Michael Del Zotto on the right half-wall. Carlson had been drawn up ice by Richards, left his assignment and was unable to prevent Del Zotto from relaying the puck to Derek Stepan on the right side of the net. Stepan smacked a one-timer in for the game-winner that Holtby had no hope of preventing as he lunged across the crease.
Although more than 15 minutes remained, the Capitals couldn’t find a way to even the score and reward their goaltender’s showing with even a single point.
“It could’ve been pretty lopsided for a while there and he kept us in it,” winger Eric Fehr said. “We really wanted to win one for him, but they played a great game.”