The Stanley Cup Playoffs are approaching, and Braden Holtby knows it.
After a loss Friday marked by low energy from the whole team, the Capitals showed up Sunday to end a two-game skid. For the number of shots they faced, it wouldn’t have been possible without their goaltender.
“(Holtby is) a huge, huge reason why we won the game tonight,” Travis Boyd said. “Some nights you’re gonna have the nights where maybe you don’t have your A-game or whatever’s going on. If you have a goalie like Holts who can kind of pick up the slack on those nights, it makes things a lot easier for us.”
Holtby said facing the volume of shots he did (36, against Washington’s 30) can help with finding a rhythm in net.
“They came hard,” he said of the Flyers. “Their season kind of was on the line. I thought we did a good job, especially off the rush. We didn’t give them too much 5-on-5. They worked for what they got, but I thought for the most part, plays were in my grasp to stop.
Tom Wilson, Boyd and Jakub Vrana scored for Washington, and Alex Ovechkin was one of five Capitals to record an assist.
The Capitals head into the final two weeks of the regular season hanging onto the Metropolitan Division lead at 44-24-8 (96 points). They will finish this homestand Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes before taking the final road trip of the season to Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida.
“We’re getting every team’s best game. We know that,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s the challenge of the regular season. Then the other things that come along your way, I feel those only help you grow as a group.”
Wilson put the Capitals on the board four minutes in by redirecting a shot from Nick Jensen. The puck hopped in front of the crease at an angle typically seen in basketball bounce passes, and Flyers goalie Brian Elliott couldn’t grab it.
Boyd broke a 25-game goalless streak during the middle period, seconds after he missed a shot from up close. Andre Burakovsky dug the puck out and around to Matt Niskanen at the blue line, and Boyd hopped a few inches to tip Niskanen’s shot down and under Elliott’s armpit.
“I had a split second there where I was a little frustrated with myself for missing the net completely on the first chance, but it’s a funny game,” Boyd said. “Sometimes you can be all alone with the goalie and miss the net. Two seconds later, you got an opportunity to tip one and somehow that one goes in. Regardless, it felt good for me.”
With Michal Kempny out of the lineup indefinitely, due to a lower-body injury he suffered Wednesday against the Lightning, the Capitals’ defensive pairings have become more fluid. Reirden mixed up the pairs throughout the second period, at one point moving Jensen up with Dmitry Orlov, then with John Carlson. Niskanen skated with Christian Djoos for a spell, another uncommon tandem.
For nearly 40 minutes, the different defensive looks helped keep the Flyers scoreless, although Holtby’s performance had more to do with that. Finally, Philadelphia struck with a power-play goal by Jakub Voracek, and it was 2-1 after the second.
Vrana’s goal came midway through the third on a Flyers neutral zone turnover. Brett Connolly popped a loose puck ahead to Vrana, uncovered, and he netted his 22nd goal of the season.
Forwards Carl Hagelin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were game-time decisions with illnesses, but both played. In fact, Reirden hinted after the game that other players were not feeling 100 percent as he discussed the defensive changes.
“We’re looking for the right combinations that work for us that can set us up for future success. Just some guys that aren’t 100 percent, in terms of let’s say sickness-wise that are low on energy. So you have to manage those minutes as well,” he said.
Up next, before playing another game, the Capitals will visit the White House on Monday in honor of winning the Stanley Cup.
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