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Four crucial minutes help Caps to fourth straight win, Holtby continues mastery over Montreal, Boyd scores in return, Vrana stays hot, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Turn Around - Giving up an early goal against typically hasn't fazed the Caps this season. For the league-leading 14th time this season, Washington surrendered the game's first goal and went on to victory on Monday night in Montreal, taking a 4-2 victory over the Canadiens. The win was Washington's fourth in a row.

The Caps don't panic or get down on themselves when early adversity strikes; they stick to the system and the game plan, and their patience is often rewarded. In Monday's win, the Caps turned things around on the Habs in the span of just a few minutes of playing time late in the first and early in the second period.

In the penultimate minute of the first frame, Tom Wilson's power-play goal tied the game. With just a few ticks left in the first, Caps goalie Braden Holtby moved laterally to his left to deny Tomas Tatar's bid for the go-ahead goal, and then Garnet Hathaway drew a hi-sticking minor on Montreal's Phillip Danault at the buzzer, enabling the Caps to start the second period on the power play in a 1-1 game.

Washington wasn't able to take its first lead of the night on that power play at the outset of the second, but it did so three seconds after the expiration of the man-advantage, getting a go-ahead goal from Travis Boyd. In less than four minutes, the Caps tied the game, prevented the Habs from retaking the lead, and then grabbed the lead themselves, retaining it for the remainder of the evening.

"It was important time in the game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of that aforementioned stretch late in the first and early in the second. "And it's a [power play] unit we haven't practiced with a lot, and even if you had practiced with it, seven or eight days off the ice is not always great for power plays to be zipping it around.

"They found a way to find the back of the net, and then we get one just after another power play, so it was important. Special teams were a big part of the win tonight. The penalty kill continues to do a solid job, and against a dangerous power play there that has some big shooters back on the blue line and on the half wall. So it was a good team win in a number of different ways tonight, and we'll look to build on that at home against Nashville."

Montreal Mastery - Braden Holtby entered Monday night's game in the midst of the longest slump of his NHL career. For the first time in his 453 games in the league, Holtby went into the game against the Habs having allowed three or more goals in seven straight starts for the first time in his career. But on Monday against Montreal, he was back on the beam.

Holtby stopped 31 of 33 shots on the night to earn his first victory since Jan. 5, and he was at his best in the final 40 minutes when a desperate Montreal team was vying to come from behind.

"Oh my God he was great today," exudes Jakub Vrana of Holtby's Monday night performance. "He made some huge saves. He shut it down back there."

With Monday's win, Holtby improves to 14-2-2 lifetime against the Canadiens, with a 1.69 GAA and a .943 save pct. In a dozen career starts at Bell Centre, Holtby is 10-1-1, and he has allowed two or fewer goals against in 10 of those dozen starts.

The victory over Montreal was Holtby's 276th career triumph, and he surpasses Grant Fuhr for the ninth most wins by a goaltender aged 30 or younger.

Fifty Mission Cap - Fifty games into the 2019-20 season, the Caps have the best record in the league (34-11-5), and they've collected 73 points. That's the second best 50-game start in franchise history, trailing only the 2015-16 edition of the team, which rolled up 78 points in its first 50 games of the season (37-9-4).

Flying V - For the second straight game, Washington winger Jakub Vrana netted the game-winner for the Caps. With six game-winners on the season, Vrana is tied with John Carlson for the team lead.

Vrana also added an assist in Monday's win, and his scoring streak is now at a career high nine straight games (eight goals, three assists). He now has nine multi-point games this season, and his 23 goals are second only to Alex Ovechkin (34) on the team. With 22 even-strength goals, Vrana is second only to Ovechkin (23) on the team, and he has 10 more even-strength tallies than any of his other teammates.

Vrana scored 24 goals last season, and he is now one goal shy of matching that single-season career best, with 32 games remaining in the campaign.

Missing Man - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin sat out Monday's game in Montreal, serving his one-game NHL suspension for opting out of the NHL's All-Star Game in St. Louis this past weekend. Ovechkin has played in 421 of Washington's last 426 games, and three of the five games he has missed over that span have been one-game suspensions for choosing rest over representation of the Capitals at the league's midseason event.

In addition to the one-game suspension for missing the All-Star Game, Ovechkin has now been fined $51,282 on each of the three occasions, so he is actually choosing to pay for that midseason rest.

Ovechkin overslept and incurred a one-game team suspension early in the 2015-16 season, and he missed the regular season finale in '15-16 as well, choosing to rest for a rescheduled home date against Anaheim that was tacked on at the end of that season. The Caps had clinched the division, the conference and the Presidents' Trophy by that point, and Ovechkin had reached the 50-goal plateau and had all but nailed down the Rocket Richard Trophy for that season, too.

The last time Ovechkin missed a game because of injury was nearly five years ago when he sat out a March 5, 2015 home game against Minnesota.

Triumphant Return - In the lineup for the first time in nearly a month as a fill-in for Ovechkin, Travis Boyd made his presence felt in the lineup, scoring his third goal of the season early in the second period, the goal that put the Caps in front for good.

Boyd hadn't played since Dec. 31, and like the rest of his teammates and all of the Canadiens as well, he was stepping back into the lineup immediately after the midseason break for both teams, a span of eight days with no practice or time on the ice.

"It's tough," says Boyd. "It's hard. Not only was it a month in between games for me, but also taking the last seven days off from skating or anything like that. But after the first few shifts, you just settle in and it just becomes hockey again. It sure was a lot of fun being out there again tonight."

The Caps don't suffer any fall-off when Boyd is in the lineup. Despite averaging less than 12 minutes a night (11:36), Boyd has totaled three goals and nine points in 20 games for Washington this season. The Caps are 15-4-1 when he is in the lineup.

Sailing The Atlantic - With Monday's win over Montreal, the Caps are now 13-2-0 against Atlantic Division opponents this season, falling only to the Canadiens and the Bruins. Washington will play nine of its final 32 games this season against Atlantic opposition.

By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 23:48 in ice time … Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller each had six shots on net to lead Washington … Carlson and Wilson led the Caps with eight shots on net each … Hathaway led the Caps with five hits … Nick Jensen led the Caps with two blocked shots … Washington recorded 41 shots on net in the game; the Caps have had 40 or more shots on net in four of their 50 games this season, with all four of those games coming against Atlantic Division opponents.

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