25 Lars Ellers and you win every year

The role Lars Eller plays on this Capitals team is one that typically goes overlooked and unnoticed.

Until Nicklas Backstrom goes down with a hand injury. Or Evgeny Kuznetsov is injured on a hit from Brayden McNabb.

Eller can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s as capable of playing top-line minutes as he is doing the third and fourth-line grunt work. He can play wing if such a need is necessary. The quintessential swiss army knife. When top players go down, which is not uncommon in the relentless, unforgiving two-month path to the Cup, a player like that proves invaluable.

Never was that more on display than in Wednesday’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-2 Capitals win that evened the series 1-1.

Kuznetsov was lost for the game after being injured on a hit from McNabb during the first period. That led to Backstrom being bumped up to Kuznetsov’s spot on the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson while Eller came up to the line Backstrom centered between Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, a trio that was coming off a strong effort in Game 1 despite the loss for Washington. Eller went on to score a goal and while getting a pair of primary assists, both of which were textbook passes to Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik, respectively.

The type of puck movement that will be shown to kids at hockey camps this summer.

Eller could’ve had a point or two more, as well. It didn’t matter who he was playing with, whether it was his third-line flanks Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly, second-line partners Oshie and Vrana, or Ovechkin and Backstrom on the powerplay, whenever Eller was on the ice, he was making things happen. The tape on his stick was in lockstep with the puck. It was just one of those nights.

And it’s been one of those postseasons for Eller, who has 17 points (6-11) in 21 games in these playoffs. He filled in admirably when Backstrom went down during the Second Round and missed four games. He took over the game on Wednesday when Kuznetsov went down.

It’s the type of player Eller is, going back to when he was in Montreal. A guy who can play anywhere, and with anyone. And he’s been every bit of that and more this postseason for Washington.

Play of the night

Nothing in sports makes fans jump out of their seats, makes social media blow up quite like a paddle save during the third period of a playoff game.

What a save by Holtby. Save of the playoffs. A once-every-five-years type of save.

And what a night for Holtby, who finished with 37 saves on 39 shots, bouncing back from a rough Game 1. He outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury after Fleury got the upper-hand on Monday with a big third period. Like they say, the game should be called goalie.

Other thoughts

*The Capitals won the first Stanley Cup Final game in their franchise history on Wednesday night.

*This guarantees the Caps won’t be swept like they were in 1998 by the Red Wings. That 1998 Cup Final was the last time there was a sweep in the Stanley Cup.

*Lots of tempers boiling over with quite a few scrums, including one after the final horn sounded to end the game. It was something you could sense coming, with a lot of physical, even chippy play through these first two games.

*Shea Theodore has had two really strong outings to begins the series. It was nice to see him rewarded with a goal in the third period. Here’s a good look at how the 22-year-old is establishing himself as a full-time NHLer after a couple years of shuttling back and forth between the NHL and AHL.

*Through two games the game-winning goals have gone to Tomas Nosek and Brooks Orpik. I gave you guys the heads up that would probably happen but nobody would listen.

*For Orpik: 1st goal in 221 games, regular season and playoffs, dating back to 2016. First goal in 56 playoff games stretching back to 2014.

*The last time Brooks Orpik scored a goal, Las Vegas had not yet been awarded a franchise.

*James Neal opened the scoring on a great shot that stung the top corner to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead 7:58 in. This was the shot of the night.

*Hard hat: Matt Niskanen – Didn’t show up on the scoresheet but put up plenty of crooked numbers in other categories, with three shots, four hits, and blocking a shot. He played a game-high 27:13, including 5:25 of shorthanded time.

*Speaking of which, big night of penalty killing for the Capitals, who held the Golden Knights to one powerplay goal on five opportunities. The effort was highlighted by killing off a 1:09-long 5-on-3 during the third period.

*One last thought: A sneak preview at Game 3 on Saturday night – Vegas is 3-0 following losses in these playoffs, with Marc-Andre Fleury allowing seven goals on 103 shots. Meanwhile the Capitals are 4-5 at home this postseason.

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This graphic shows how great Braden Holtby has been

You can’t win without goaltending. This Stanley Cup Final matchup is as good an instance of that.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby have been relentless this postseason. Fleury will win the Conn Smythe Trophy barring a meltdown of epic proportions in the Cup Final. Holtby, after struggling through the regular season, has found his game in the playoffs and recorded back-to-back shutouts to put the Capitals in the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1998.

Plenty has been made about how good Fleury has been, and for good reason. But Holtby has been amazing in his own right. And not just in this postseason.

As the graphic points out, Holtby has a career 2.01 GAA in the postseason, a 77-game body of work that spans back to 2012. What it doesn’t tell you is that his career save percentage is .930, which is the highest of any goalie with 75 or more career playoff games, while his GAA is second among netminders that qualify to only Hockey Hall of Famer Turk Broda, who had a 1.98 GAA in 101 career playoff games. Only Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, and Jonathan Quick have won more games that Holtby’s 41 since 2012, while only Fleury, Quick, and Lundqvist have more shutouts that Holtby’s six over that span.

This postseason has been no different. In 18 games, Holtby has a 12-6 record with a 2.04 GAA and .924 save percentage. He has a postseason-high 1,088 minutes played despite not playing until Game 2 of the First Round against the Blue Jackets, after Philipp Grubauer got the starting nod in net to start the playoffs.

Holtby has been in net for all 12 of Washington’s wins. Of course, no goaltender in franchise history has ever won 16.

Goalies: 1-5

1 – Carey Price

Price is the best goaltender on the planet. No netminder is leaned upon as heavily as the 30-year-old is in Montreal, and he’s delivered. Among goalies to appear in 180 games over the past four seasons, Price has the highest save percentage at .928. The next-highest? Cam Talbot, at .922. Price is one of four goalies to record 20 shutouts over that span, along with Braden Holtby, Tuukka Rask, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Over that span, Price has played 25 fewer games than Fleury, 51 fewer than Holtby, and 58 fewer than Rask.

2 – Braden Holtby

Is there anybody in Price’s league? A small case could be made for Holtby, who has been downright spectacular since taking over the Washington crease. In his last three seasons, the 28-year-old has won north of 40 games and finished with a save percentage above .920 in all three years, and has a 2.17 GAA over that time. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and followed that up by winning the Jennings Trophy last season. We all know what trophy is missing.

3 – Devan Dubnyk

It helps having a defensive team as good as the Wild are in front of you, but Dubnyk has been great since arriving in Minnesota via a 2015 trade from Arizona. Since joining the Wild, Dubnyk has a .924 save percentage and 2.17 GAA while recording 15 shutouts. He turned in another Vezina-caliber season last year when the Wild were one of the NHL’s best teams during the regular season.

4 – Matt Murray

Is he Ken Dryden? No. Is this ranking a bit high, possibly premature? Maybe. Is Matt Murray for real? Yes (or at least I think so). Murray hasn’t played a whole lot of hockey, but has played (and played really, really well) when it’s counted, helping the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups. In 32 games over the last two postseasons, Murray has a .928 save percentage and 1.95 GAA. After tearing his hamstring during warmups prior to Pittsburgh’s playoff opener last season, Murray returned during the Eastern Conference Final, recording three shutouts in 10 starts. The 23-year-old has a convincing 62-game regular season sample, going 41-12-5 with a .925 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

5 – Sergei Bobrovsky

Bobrovsky is a little bit of a mystery. His last five seasons are bookended with lights-out, Vezina-winning campaigns while the three in between are riddled with injuries and underperformance. Is this a case of Carey Price circa 2014, a guy coming into his own as one of the game’s dominant performers? It could very well be. Time will tell.

Stat of the Day: Braden Holtby 3rd Fastest to 150 Wins

There seems to be little debate to the claim that Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is the best in the world at his position.

But Braden Holtby, he of the Washington Capitals, might have something to say about that.

With Price out of commission last season, Holtby took the Vezina Trophy holding the crease for Washington, which won the Presidents Trophy with 120 points. Had he not been on such a loaded Capitals club, he could’ve very well taken the Hart Trophy as league MVP, as Price did in 2015.

Holtby is out to another blazing start in his defense of the Vezina, stopping 52 of 55 shots for the Caps, who are 1-0-1 going into Tuesday’s matchup with Colorado. And with his first win of the season on Saturday against the Islanders, a 2-1 victory, he became the latest netminder to join the 150-win club.

You’re probably saying, “Who cares?” right now, and for good reason. The 27-year-old is the 116th netminder to reach the milestone, and is time zones away from Martin Brodeur’s record of 691 victories. He’s one of 24 active players to win 150 games.

Here’s the hook – Holtby needed just 246 games to reach that mark, the third-fastest dash to the milestone. Only Ken Dryden and Andy Moog reached that mark quicker, in 241 and 245 games, respectively.

It’s the latest instance of just how good Holtby is, something that has come to light over the past couple seasons.

Going back to his breakout in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as a 22-year-old, in which backstopped the Caps to a first-round knockout of the then-defending champion Boston Bruins before taking the top-seeded Rangers to Game 7, Holtby has led the league in wins, with 136. He’s tied with Roberto Luongo for sixth in save percentage among goalies with 200 games played going back to the start of the 2012-13 season, trailing only Cory Schneider, Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford, Ben Bishop, and Henrik Lundqvist in that category. He’s ninth (2.39) in GAA, and trails on Marc-Andre Fleury with 20 shutouts.