With under two minutes to go in the third period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Alex Tuch had a wide open net on a pass from William Karlsson, and it appeared the Golden Knights would send the game into overtime with his game-tying tally. However, Braden Holtby reached back, completely stunning the hockey world with the save of the year, stopping the puck on his paddle while looking behind him.
“Thank god he’s our goalie,” Alex Ovechkin said of Holtby. “He’s always there when we need him. Probably save of the year for sure.”
Not only did Holtby rise to the occasion, Brooks Orpik and Lars Eller scored critical goals to lift Washington to a 3-2 win in Game 2, evening up the series 1-1. Not only have the Capitals found Holtby and unlikely heroes leading the way in Game 2, they have gotten a lot out of players all the way down the lineup, beyond just the stars.
As the Capitals sit three wins away from the franchise’s first championship, they continue to rely on all their players throughout the lineup and are evidently reaping the benefits.
Capitals’ Eller, Orpik Stepping Up
Eller came up big for the Capitals during the regular season, putting up a career-high 38 points while earning a five-year contract extension. However, his outstanding play didn’t stop there: this postseason, Eller has continued to lead the way for Washington. In light of injuries to Nicklas Backstrom, as well as an injury to Evgeny Kuznetsov (day-to-day) in Game 2, he’s stepped up to the plate, slotting in on the top-6 and top power-play unit without skipping a beat.
“He’s the guy who’s kind of our secret weapon,” Ovechkin said. “It’s hard [for opponents] to play when he’s on top of his game, when he feel the puck when he create the moment for us.”
The 29-year-old forward has 17 points through 21 playoff games so far and has shown strong chemistry no matter where he is in the lineup. His teammates cite his confidence and poise with the puck, and Eller said that more minutes make him a stronger player.
“The more I’m out there, the better I feel on the puck,” Eller said. “There’s a better flow in my game.”
In addition to Eller, Orpik has also been a key factor in these playoffs. He is the only player on Washington’s roster to appear in the Cup Final and capture a championship, and the veteran’s experience and play, as well as his attitude, have been critical so far.
“He’s the backbone of this team,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “He’s so professional in everything he does.”
On the bottom pairing with Christian Djoos, Orpik has been able to play a stronger defensive game in these playoffs. He is a plus-16 and has been a huge factor on the backend. The 37-year-old is also a role model in the dressing room and leads by example.
[miptheme_quote author=”Brian MacLellan” style=”text-center”]We’re a team full of rookies, and he’s the right guy to really lead that group as one of the guys, because he’s like a father figure in our room. The players look up to him. I don’t think there’s a guy in our room, if Brooks sort of pulls you aside and says, you know what, maybe we shouldn’t do that or stop feeling sorry for yourself, guys really, really take that to heart. They have so much respect for him, and he’s been the absolute perfect guy for us, especially with the young group that we have.[/miptheme_quote]
And with his goal Wednesday, he again came up big in a way that’s untraditional in his game: he scored his first goal since the 2015-16 campaign.
“Brooksy doesn’t score a lot of goals, but that was a huge one,” Eller laughed. “To have success in the playoffs, you need guys, every single guy, chipping in and sometimes, they need to chip in ways they don’t always do.”
In addition to Eller and Orpik, players like Dmitry Orlov and Chandler Stephenson have also been sites to behold in these playoffs. As the Capitals continue their campaign, they will continue to rely on these key pieces, but know that every player will have to continue to contribute as they work closer toward their goal.
“Good response by all of us,” Ovechkin said. “Lars, those guys play extra minutes, extra shifts, whatever it takes.”
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.