- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2018

Braden Holtby emerged from the Capitals’ locker room, with his goalie mask on, and took the ice for the start of the third period. To that point, starter Philipp Grubauer had allowed four goals, and the Capitals turned to Holtby to lift them to avoid an 0-2 hole.

The switch ultimately didn’t matter.

The Blue Jackets came away with another overtime victory in the District — stealing a 5-4 win Sunday in Game 2. Holtby couldn’t haul in a rebound that Matt Calvert knocked in the net.

Again, the Capitals had a two-goal lead. Again, they couldn’t keep it.

And across the ice, the Capitals watched Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stop 54 shots.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz has called his goaltending situation a “blessing,” but Washington needs one of them to be a difference maker.

“We just needed the one save,” Trotz said. “One save and we weren’t able to get it.”

With Holtby replacing Grubauer, it’s now officially fair to wonder who will start Game 3 on Tuesday. Trotz said he would let the loss “simmer” for a bit before deciding.

Heading into the series, Trotz expressed his belief in Grubauer — who had given him all the reasons to do so. The Capitals coach made the tough choice, giving Grubauer the starting nod for the first two games over a former Vezina Trophy winner. Grubauer earned the spot with lights-out play down the stretch, amid a rough patch from Holtby.

But in the playoffs, Grubauer hasn’t been the same goaltender that posted a .929 save percentage following the All-Star break. In the first two outings against Columbus, he’s given up eight goals — four a piece.

Grubauer has been put in tough situations. In Game 1, Columbus scored on a perfect pass, two power plays and an unbelievable finish from forward Artemi Panarin in overtime. Trotz said the 25-year-old played “fine” and stuck with him.

Game 2, however, fell more on Grubauer’s shoulders.

While the Capitals repeated similar mental lapses that led to an abysmal penalty kill, Grubauer took full responsibility for allowing the Blue Jackets’ fourth-goal.

Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski shot from the top of the blue line and Grubauer failed to make the save.

Through two games, Grubauer’s save percentage is just .837.

“It’s disappointing that I couldn’t play the last period, but it is what it is,” Grubauer said. “And I don’t think I played that good.”

In relief, Holtby didn’t see much action. The Blue Jackets spent most of the third period and overtime on their heels, with the Capitals controlling the action. Holtby saw only eight shots on goal, seven of which were saves.

Holtby said he “felt fine” coming off the bench.

“It’s not something I’ve done a lot of. It’s just a chance to clear your head,” Holtby said. “This is what this last little bit of practice has been for. It’s just preparing for any situation, wherever the team needs you. That was tonight.”

Trotz defended both Grubauer and Holtby, saying the loss wasn’t on his goaltenders. There’s some truth to that. Penalties helped erase a 3-1 deficit. Washington threw a flurry of pucks at Bobrovsky, only to not break through often enough.

But the Capitals are down 0-2 in a best-of-seven series. There’s hardly wiggle room for other mistakes.

They found out what elite goaltending can do to save a game, too. Just look at Bobrovsky.

“We have a lot of faith in Grubi, Grubi’s been fantastic for us,” Trotz said. “We have a lot of faith in Holts, as well. He’s probably had more of a difficult season than he would like, but we’re pretty blessed to have two options. … We’ll see where we go from here.”

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