With video coach Brett Leonhardt hastily signed to back him up, Holtby made 35 saves plus two more in a shootout to carry the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory.
Washington snapped a four-game skid and ended Montreal's four-game winning streak. It was a big victory for Holtby, scrutinized after a 6-4 loss Wednesday to Ottawa.
"Anytime you're on a losing streak, you want to get back in there and be a part of the guys that make the difference in ending the streak," Holtby said. "As far as the Ottawa game goes, there's that one goal that I want back. I've learned in my short pro career that you can't let those eat you up or you won't be having a pro career for long."
Mikhail Grabovski tied the score with 5:32 left in the third period and had the go-ahead goal in the shootout for the Capitals.
Holtby kicked away Montreal's final two attempts, by Alex Galchenyuk and Tomas Plekanec, with his right pad to give Washington a 3-2 edge in the shootout. Eric Fehr, who had a goal and an assist in regulation, also scored in the tiebreaker for the Capitals along with Alex Ovechkin.
Plekanec had a goal and an assist for Montreal. Daniel Briere added a goal and Brian Gionta assisted on both regulation scores for the Canadiens.
Lars Eller and David Desharnais connected in the shootout for Montreal.
The evening began in bizarre fashion for Washington. After a lower-body injury to Neuvirth before the game, the Capitals hastily signed Leonhardt to back up Holtby.
In a similar situation in December 2008, Washington suited up Leonhardt — a former college goalie — for a game.
Montreal outshot Washington 13-4 in the first period and broke on top at the 15:20 mark. Capitals defenceman Alexander Urbom failed to clear a puck from behind the net and Briere scored on a wraparound between the legs of Holtby.
Urbom was benched the rest of the game by Washington coach Adam Oates.
"We weren't happy with his game last game, and he basically made the same mistake and it cost us a goal," Oates said. "We feel like he's struggling to make those reads and it's too early in the game to allow another."
Washington tied it 5:17 into the second on a similar failure to clear by Montreal. Grabovski took the puck off the stick of Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj behind the net and directed it toward Fehr, who scored into an open goal.
The Canadiens answered 67 seconds later in transition when Gionta centred to Plekanec, whose glancing shot bounced past Holtby.
Budaj finished with 24 saves. He was trying to win at Washington for the second time in eight days. A week earlier, he withstood a barrage of shots in the third period of Montreal's 3-2 victory.
"I don't want to take anything away from Washington, (but) we had 37 shots and we took it to them," Budaj said. "(Washington) stuck with it, got a couple lucky goals. The first was a miscommunication. I made a bad play and it ended up in the net. The other was just a quick shot and it trickled through me, so it's a disappointing result."
Washington failed to put a shot on goal in the final 15:40 of the first period, but rebounded with inspired play the rest of the game. The goals may have lacked esthetic value, but that was fine with Oates, who wants to see more grit from the Capitals.
"You've got to grind it out. You've got to be willing to grind it out," Oates said. "We have some guys that are regarded as flashy players. It's hard to play that way every night. It's nice when you can score two early and it opens a team up because that's human nature and all of a sudden your skills will show. But for me, no matter who it is, you've got to be willing to play a certain style and over the course of a game your skill set will show itself."
NOTES: Leonhardt was a goalie at Oswego State and Neumann University. ... Washington forward Brooks Laich missed his first game of the season. Little-used Jay Beagle appeared for just the 13th time in two seasons under Oates.