Capitals’ Braden Holtby showing poise of a veteran

Clutch save in first period proved pivotal

It looked like a “nice, easy play,” Karl Alzner said. Then the puck bounced over John Carlson’s stick late in the first period Monday night, changing the course of Game 2, eventually in the Washington Capitals’ favor.

That hardly looked likely when New York Rangers rookie Chris Kreider zipped out of the penalty box and down the ice on a breakaway. But Braden Holtby’s save just jump-started the Caps, and Jason Chimera quickly scored to sap the energy out of Madison Square Garden.

“I think that it’s crazy to see that stuff happen,” Carlson said. “Teams are in their zone and working hard, and then one bounce goes the other way and it’s a game-changer.”

As much as Alex Ovechkin’s game-winning goal was the seminal moment in the 3-2 victory, the Caps might never have reached that point it not for that crucial sequence and brilliance by Holtby, Matt Hendricks and Chimera, as they jumped out to a two-goal lead instead of being tied.

Kreider, a first-round pick the Rangers signed out of Boston College just last month, already stole headlines for his Game 1 goal and looked to have another. But Holtby on Monday did what he was unable to do Saturday: make up for a teammate’s blunder.

“Just tried to be patient on the breakaway,” Holtby said. “In the past, I’ve got a little ahead of myself in making moves first. Just tr[ied] to be patient, waited him out and he tried to go five-hole.”

The Caps wasted no time in transition, with Chimera blasting full speed on the forecheck. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist misjudged Chimera’s speed and tried to handle the puck in the corner. In no time, Chimera stole it and put it in front for Hendricks, who would have scored had it not been for a desperation save.

Chimera tapped it in for his second goal of the series and the biggest play of the night until Ovechkin’s power-play score with 7:27 left.

“You need that,” forward Brooks Laich said. “Momentum swings like that can be the difference in the game.”

Kuznetsov staying in Russia

The melodrama surrounding top-prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov and whether he’ll play next season in the NHL or Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League has been ongoing. But according to multiple reports out of Russia, the question has been answered and Kuznetsov will remain with Traktor Chelyabinsk for two more seasons, a significant blow to the Caps’ future.

Kuznetsov told Sovietsky Sport that he made the decision to stay in Russia and that a new contract was just a formality.

“Firstly, I really want to make the Olympics,” he told Sovietsky Sport. “I think we have a very strong team, and I will continue to gain more experience and progress with the team. I am not ready to go to the NHL right now.”

The Caps declined comment through a spokesman. Asked March 27 about the 19-year-old rated the top prospect in the world by The Hockey News this spring, general manager George McPhee said, “There’s really nothing going on there at this point.”

Black aces get call

With the Hershey Bears’ elimination from the Calder Cup Playoffs this past weekend, the Caps called up goaltender Dany Sabourin, forward Cody Eakin and defenseman Sean Collins to be so-called “Black Aces.”

Their purpose is to provide more bodies for practice; it would take a torrent of injuries for any of them to get into the lineup. Recently signed college free agent defenseman Cameron Schilling also is practicing with the Caps but is not eligible to play because his NHL contract does not begin until next season.

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