TAMPA -- When the Washington Capitals began the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April, goaltender Braden Holtby was on the bench after struggling late in the regular season.
On Wednesday, with his game back in fine form, Holtby was on the podium.
Holtby made 29 saves for his second consecutive shutout in a 4-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Capitals advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998 and will face the Vegas Golden Knights. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Vegas on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
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It has been an outstanding postseason for Holtby, the 27th goaltender in NHL history to record a shutout in a Game 7 and the fifth to do so to clinch a berth in the Final. He has a shutout streak of 157:13, not including the 2:14 at the end of Game 5 (a 3-2 loss) when he was off for an extra skater. The last goal he allowed was to Lightning forward Ryan Callahan 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5.
"Myself and our team, we've just tried to use as much knowledge and experience to get better and this year I've been around enough now to know that no matter what you just have to be a good teammate, you got to work, you got to set the right example and support your teammates," Holtby said. "When it's your turn to help the team in any way, you prepare, and you be ready. And I think that's one thing that starts with our leadership, that we want to show our whole group is that you put egos out the window. We're here to win as a team no matter who gets credit. You're just prepared to play."
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm7: Holtby stops 29 shots for shutout
Holtby was prepared in the second period when the Lightning, down 1-0, outshot the Capitals 12-6. Much like in Game 6 (in which Holtby made 24 saves in a 3-0 win), he held off the Lightning's threat before the Capitals extended their lead.
"[Tampa Bay] came with everything, especially in the second, and Braden stood tall," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He had some pucks behind him, but everybody collapsed, got a stick on the puck or whatever or committed to block a shot, block the lanes."
Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said it was "weird" when Holtby struggled late in the regular season; from Feb. 11-March 6, Holtby lost seven of eight starts (1-5-2). As a result, backup Philipp Grubauer got the start in Games 1 and 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.
Video: WSH@TBL, Gm7: Holtby, Ovechkin on going to Cup Final
But all of that is in the past. Washington needed Holtby to be at his best to get to the Cup Final, and he has been that.
"We were down two [against Columbus], and we needed him. He stepped in and he's been doing a fantastic job ever since," Oshie said. "He's feeling it. He's seeing the puck well. We got a lot of guys sacrificing in front of him. If you want to win the Cup … you need your goalie to be your best player and [Holtby] is being that right now for us."
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