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Braden Holtby outshines Carey Price in brilliant win over Canadiens

Braden Holtby outshines Carey Price in brilliant win over Canadiens

Braden Holtby was brilliant again for the Caps, allowing only one goal in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

How it happened: Alex Ovechkin faked a slap shot from the point  then fired a wrister on net. Carey Price made the save, but Nicklas Backstrom was right in front to hit in the rebound to give the Caps the 1-0 lead. That lead would stand until the 7:18 point in the third period when Tomas Plekanec took advantage of a scrum in front of Braden Holtby to tie the game at one. Evgeny Kuznetsov, however, responded less than one minute later. Kuznetsov forced a turnover in center ice from Max Pacioretty then deked defenseman Jeff Petry out of his skates before finishing the play with a shot over the blocker for the goal. Kuznetsov forced another turnover behind the net which he fed to Brett Connolly who wristed in the insurance tally. Ovechkin's power play goal later in the third salted away the win.

What it means: The win moves Washington into a three-way tie in the standings with the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers at 57 points for second-place in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have won six in a row tying their longest win streak of the season. They are now 13-2-2 in their last 17 games. This was the team’s first win over Montreal this season after losing 2-1 at Verizon Center on Dec. 17. Washington is 17-4-4 in their last 20 games against Montreal and 8-3-0 this season against teams from Canada.

Turning point: Montreal was dominated for much of the game, but they pulled even in the third period thanks to Plekanec's goal. Kuznetsov's tally came less than a minute later to suck all the life out of Montreal and the Bell Centre. That's a great response by the Caps and by Kuznetsov who has struggled finding the back of the net for much of the season. 

Holy Holtby: Holtby allowed three goals in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday and was pulled from the game. He did not allow a goal until the third period of Monday's game for a career-long shutout streak of 169:12. He finished the game with 22 saves. For those curious, the record for most consecutive shutouts is five held by Brian Boucher in 2003-04.

Tough homecoming: Lars Eller no doubt wanted to have a good game in his return to Montreal. He did manage two shots on goal, but he also took the third period interference penalty that led to the Canadiens' only goal of the game.

One to go: Ovechkin had a three point night with one goal and two assists. The were career points Nos. 997, 998 and 999. He now sits just one away from 1,000 points, a feat that has only been accomplished by 83 players in NHL history.

Look ahead: The Caps return to Washington to face a gauntlet schedule as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. They then hit the road for a three-game swing starting with a rematch with the Penguins on Monday.

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Caps get the rematch they were hoping for

Caps get the rematch they were hoping for

Last season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth in Washington. The Caps dominated the regular season, wrapping up the Presidents’ Trophy for the top record in the NHL by late March with seven games still remaining.

And yet, once again, Washington’s regular season success did not translate to the playoffs. The Caps met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and were eliminated in six games.

RELATED: Why Eller may be the key to beating the Penguins

Now, however, Washington will get a chance to erase the sting of last year’s loss in a second-round rematch with the Penguins.

“We were disappointed last year,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “First thing that you thought was about coming back and playing them again and here we are. Maybe not a surprise, but it's going to be a good match up. They're a good team, they're the Stanley Cup champs so it will be a really good match and we're excited about it.”

“Pittsburgh's a rivalry team, knocked us out last year,” T.J. Oshie said. “You don't need much more motivation to get started here.”

In the team’s 41 seasons, Washington has advanced past the second round of the postseason only twice and have failed to do so in the Alex Ovechkin era. Much of their playoff troubles have come at the hands of the same team they now prepare to face.

In the franchise’s 27 playoff appearances, this will be the 10th time Washington and Pittsburgh have met. Washington has gone only 1-8 in their previous nine meetings.

For a team looking to overcome its previous playoff history, it seems almost necessary to have to go through Pittsburgh.

“There's a history with the Penguins,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think it's fitting that we have to go through the Penguins at some point. Got to change the narrative hopefully this year and that's what we intend to do.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz calls Hornqvist a guy who 'conveniently will fall on your goalie'

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast and subscribe on Apple podcastsAudioboom and Google Play!

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Why Lars Eller may be the key to beating the Penguins

Why Lars Eller may be the key to beating the Penguins

When the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins met in the second round of the playoffs last year, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held to only four combined points. That should be good enough to win, and yet it wasn’t for the Caps who had no answer for Pittsburgh’s scoring depth.

This year, Washington expects things to be different. Why? Because of Lars Eller.

The Caps will feature other new faces as well including Brett Connolly and Kevin Shattenkirk, but Connolly was a low-risk, high reward gamble and Shattenkirk was a deadline acquisition. Really the only move the Caps made to bolster their depth in direct response to last year's series loss was Eller.

Washington traded two second-round draft picks to Montreal for the Danish center in the offseason. With a career-high of 30 points, clearly the Caps were looking for versatility more so than strictly offensive production.

“He's a skilled player, but he can do the harder work, too,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “He plays PK, he plays important situations so, he's a great guy to have on the team.”

RELATED: Trotz calls Hornqvist a guy who 'conveniently will fall on your goalie'

Eller was brought to Washington with one clear role: Center the third line.

Consistency was not something Eller was able to enjoy in Montreal as head coach Michel Therrien constantly shuffled lines even electing to use Eller as a winger at times. In a stacked Washington lineup, however, it was clear just where Eller fit in. Even when Barry Trotz shuffled lines at points over the course of the season, Eller remained the constant on the third line.

“Probably the first time in my career I had that kind of stability,” Eller said. “I think it took us a good while to find the lines and get the right mix for every line. That took some time, but once we got that around late December, beginning of January, I think the whole team got on a roll and my line really got on a roll as well and a lot of pieces just kind of came together. It's been trending up in the right direction all year and now we're here.”

Eller scored 12 goals and 13 assists in 81 games with the Caps this season, helping lead Washington to the Presidents’ Trophy, but that was not why he was brought in. He was brought to this team to give the Caps the depth they learned they needed to make a deep layoff run.

“That's what we tried to address with getting Lars in that role,” Trotz said. “We'll find out. I think we addressed it, it's up to the player.”

Is it an overstatement to call Eller the key to the series? Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. The key line for Pittsburgh in last season’s series was the “HBK” line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Bonino and Phil Kessel. They were the Penguins’ third line.

Now the Caps are hoping they have found their own key third line of Andre Burakovsky, Eller and Tom Wilson.

“I can't wait for that challenge,” Eller said. “I think a lot of guys in here have pictured that this is a spot we could end up being in, facing this team sometime in the playoffs. Now is that time. We're just thrilled to have that opportunity.”

MORE CAPITALS: Key matchup: Penguins' power play vs. Caps' penalty kill

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast and subscribe on Apple podcastsAudioboom and Google Play!