Only two weeks removed from being benched in favor of usual backup Philipp Grubauer, Holtby turned in one of the best series of his eight-year career, and was instrumental in the Capitals punching their ticket to the conference finals for the first time since 1998.
He wasn’t peppered with pucks in every outing against the Pens, but he stood tall when his team needed him most, stopping 73 of 79 high-danger chances and posting a .921 save percentage through six games.
Simply put: Washington doesn’t slay its dragon without Holtby.
Of course, he’s far from the first goaltender to steal a series. Here’s a look at a few other netminders from recent history who are guilty of postseason robbery.
Matt Murray, Penguins – 2016, 2nd round vs. Capitals
Murray burst onto the NHL scene in the 2016 playoffs, earning three wins against the New York Rangers en route to a Penguins first-round victory. But he truly caught fire in the next round.
The Penguins are never true underdogs thanks to their two megastars in Evegni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but they were meeting a Capitals team that put up a staggering 120 points during the regular season.
Murray wasn’t fazed. Then 21, the rookie played like a 30-year-old vet, stopping 187 of 202 shots and posting a .926 save percentage while carrying his team to a six-game victory. But it’s the way he got the job done that really impressed.
He was easily the best player on the ice for multiple games, putting up highlight-reel stops night after night. Here are two perfect examples, starting with a pad save late in the third period of a tied Game 1. Washington ended up with the win, but that result would have been much more one-sided if not for Murray’s heroics. It also set the tone for the remainder of the series.
The second example is from Game 2. Murray once again kept the game knotted with a late third-period stunner, this time stoning Andre Burakovsky on the doorstep.
The Penguins went on to win the Cup, and can credit Murray as the main reason they got past the Capitals.
Jaroslav Halak, Canadiens – 2010, 1st round vs. Capitals
The Montreal Canadiens have a distinguished history of producing elite goaltenders. Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy … and Jaroslav Halak? Well, for a few weeks in 2010, hockey fans in la belle province were ready to anoint Halak as the second coming of Georges Vezina thanks to his unreal first round against the No. 1-seeded … Washington Capitals.
Montreal qualified for the postseason with 88 points, securing the eighth spot by one point over the Rangers. No one expected the Habs to win a game, let alone the series.
Check out Halak’s ridiculous numbers from Montreal’s four wins:
He was also solid in the following round when the Canadiens unseated the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins, but that was a tighter series that went the distance. Regardless, his wizardry against the Caps springboarded Montreal’s trip all the way to the conference finals.
J.S. Giguere, Mighty Ducks – 2003, 1st round vs. Red Wings
While his Western Conference Final performance against the Minnesota Wild was arguably more impressive – he allowed only one goal on 123 shots in a four-game sweep – it’s Giguere’s first-round mastery of the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings that cements his spot here.
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim squeaked into the 2003 postseason as a seventh seed and immediately met a squad of defending Cup champions that boasted several Hall of Famers, including Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, and Nicklas Lidstrom. Instead of bowing to his more talented and decorated opponents, though, “Jiggy” went into beast mode.
He set an NHL postseason record for saves in a playoff debut when he stopped 63 shots in a triple-overtime Game 1 win.
Although it was his first trip to the playoffs, Giguere was the difference-maker, turning aside 165 of 171 Red Wings shots en route to a four-game sweep. If it wasn’t for his stellar play, Anaheim’s epic run to the Cup Final would have ended almost before it began. He went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy even though the Mighty Ducks lost to the New Jersey Devils.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)