The first period had ended at Madison Square Garden, but there was still a large yellow "20" on the scoreboard. It was the number of shots that the New York Rangers had taken through 20 minutes, but the number that counted for Braden Holtby was directly above it: zero.
Holtby picked up where he left off in May during the Washington Capitals' first visit to Manhattan since the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he stymied and frustrated the Rangers for seven grueling games before ultimately yielding in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Capitals spotted their goaltender an early 1-0 lead on a John Carlson blast just 79 seconds into the contest and Holtby single-handedly kept his team ahead. New York took 20 of the period's remaining 26 shots after Carlson's goal and Holtby stopped them all, none more impressive than a flurry of shorthanded opportunities -- three in seven seconds, to be exact -- from in tight with Washington scrambling in its own end while on the power play.
Despite being heavily outshot, the Capitals managed to keep the Rangers at bay for a little bit longer, thanks to nine more saves by Holtby.
It took New York 30 shots to finally solve the 23-year-old on a Carl Hagelin redirection in the crease. Washington failed to muster any more offense, and Derek Stepan's power play goal on a picture-perfect tic-tac-toe passing display early in the third period proved to be the game-winner in New York's 2-1 win.
"You know he’s not going to make every single one of them," Troy Brouwer said. "He made more than enough to try and win us the game tonight."
Holtby, whose flashes of brilliance have been few and far between through eight inconsistent starts, made 38 saves -- two shy of his career high -- in arguably his best performance of the season. Holtby was defeated Sunday, but he wasn't down.
"To be honest, those are the goals that are easier to give up," he said. "They're easier to bounce back from because you know they made good plays on them. The credit's to them. That's the way a game goes sometimes."
Yet while Holtby may have been gracious in defeat, his teammares knew that he deserved better.
"He played great," Tom Poti said. "Two backdoor plays, nothing you can do on either one of them. He played great. He deserved to win."
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