The Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, two teams on the bubble of the playoff picture, battled it out Thursday night in Washington and goalie Braden Holtby was the difference in a shootout win.
In his first season as a starter, the 23-year old Holtby had one of his best games of the year with 35 saves, his second highest total of the season. While the amount is impressive, the quality was even better as he made some highlight-reel stops in big situations. He let in one very tough goal by Kyle Okposo late in the third, but came up big again by shutting down the Isles in the shootout with three saves.
Holtby has been inconsistent all year, but his play is key to the Capitals’ chances of sneaking into the playoffs. He ranks just 30th among goalies in goals against average, and he will have to improve on that and put forth more performances like this if Washington wants to play past April.
The two points were huge for the Caps as the win shoots them into first place in the weak Southeast Division, giving them the No.3 seed despite earning just 38 points thus far.
As for the Islanders, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was no slouch on the other end with 22 saves. His night was highlighted by three impressive saves in a row to stop the top-ranked power play in the league during the second period. The late goal by Okposo helped them secure a very important points as well.
Now with 40, they sit just above crosstown rivals the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, who both have 39. While the Caps came out on top in the shootout, the Islanders have to be satisfied after salvaging the point.