Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
Braden Holtby. He was simply incredible against the Bruins Thursday night — the only reason why the Caps aren’t down 3-1 heading into Boston. The 22-year-old netminder made 44 saves while allowing a single goal (on a 2-on-1) as the Caps squeaked out a 2-1 victory.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Holtby said after the game. “That’s why it’s so fun — the close games, the close battles. I hope it doesn’t change and I hope that we’re on the high end of it every time.”
After struggling somewhat Monday night (though not as much as the defense) in the Capitals 4-3 loss, this was a hell of a way to bounce back. Throughout the game Holtby was continuously peppered with shots but made save after save.
“We think he’s going to be good like that every single game and he usually is,” said Karl Alzner. “That goes to show how thick his skin is to be able to bounce back after the four goals last game and people saying that maybe the flood gates are opening. That was a veteran-like response.”
The Bruins dominated the first half of the game — they were outshooting the Capitals 26-5 at one point — but Holtby not only kept the game from getting embarrassing, he gave them a chance to win.
“He was a stud,” Brooks Laich said. “He just makes it very calm for the rest of us. We give up a shot, we know Holts is going to cover it and if he does leave a rebound, which I didn’t see many tonight, our guys are going to clear it. When you have a goaltender that’s on the top of his game, it really, really settles your team down. He was a leader for us tonight.”
With a brick wall protecting the Capitals net, Alex Semin was able to give Washington the lead — and eventually the win — on a late second period snipe. Holtby protected that razor-thin margin the remainder of the game, facing 31 shots in the final two periods. And the fans loved it. In the final minutes of the game the ‘keeper was serenaded with thundering “Holt-by” chants. Thanks to the Verizon Center in-game entrainment corps we know that the fans reached almost 120 decibels. We’re not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds like a lot.
“It’s great,” Holtby said of the cheers of 18,506. “It’s awesome to have that fan support. Not putting that down at all, but that can get your heart racing pretty quick if you let it. My job is to control my emotions and make sure I’m focusing on the next save.”
Holtby’s play in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals can no longer be described as a fluke or a product of good defense. It’s been four games and 178 saves (a 1.60 GAA for those keeping track at home). And Washington’s D in Game 4? Well, they did allow 45 shots after all.
It’s still going to be an uphill battle. The Capitals know netminders can steal series all too well. But the team can’t play the kind of defense they did Thursday. And they can’t have have the kind of offensive output they did Thursday. Save for the 15 shot second period, the Caps had just six SOGs total in the bookend frames.
But now, off to Boston. In Braden we trust.