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Braden Holtby shines in NHL playoffs debut

04.13.12 at 12:58 am ET
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Braden Holtby kept the Bruins scoreless in regulation. (AP)

After the Bruins’ morning skate on Thursday, forward Chris Kelly fielded a question about what he expected to see from the Capitals goaltender, 22-year-old Braden Holtby, considering Holtby was so inexperienced. Kelly responded by saying he did not think Holtby was too inexperienced, as he thought the young goalie had already played in about 100 NHL games.

But Thursday night marked Holtby’s 22nd NHL start, not his 101st. In his NHL playoffs debut, Holtby held the Bruins offense scoreless for 61:18 in a game in which his Capitals were heavily out-shot. He stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced and held the B’s to 0-for-4 on the power play. If others, like Kelly, did not know just how inexperienced Holtby had been, they too would have guessed he’d had been in the NHL for a while.

“It was a great game by him,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “He held us in it the whole way. We had our chances and we didn’t really cash in on a few good chances. He kept us in there the whole game, and you can’t ask a goalie to keep you in there for 80 minutes of hockey every game.”

Holtby’s night got off to a fast start. The Bruins came out of the gate with energy, and while they were able to force Holtby out of his crease at times, they were never able to beat him.

In the beginning of the second period, the Bruins enjoyed nearly five consecutive minutes of power play time and peppered Holtby with shots from all angles, but Holtby came through for Washington. After the power plays came to an end, the Bruins maintained their pressure on the Washington net. With 8:28 remaining in the second period, it looked as if the Bruins would finally be able to break Holtby when Patrice Bergeron sent a pass from the endboards behind the right side of the net across the crease to a waiting Daniel Paille, who was camped out to Holtby’s left. Paille fired a shot off from close range, but Holtby found a way to get in position and stone Paille.

The Bruins outshot the Capitals, 17-2, in the second period, but the score remained knotted at 0-0 thanks in large part to Holtby, who looked to be improving as the game continued.

“I was more just being more precise,” Holtby said. “A few times I got lucky; a 2-on-1, a shot from the corner. Things like that, I’ll need to be better on.”

But according to the scoreboard, the 22-year-old was pretty good on Thursday night. Holtby matched Tim Thomas’s effort save-for-save throughout regulation, and the 37-year-old Thomas entered the playoffs with two Vezina Trophies, a Conn Smythe performance and a Stanley Cup championship on his resume. As for Holtby, he was once an ECHL and WHL All-Star. Still, his performance on Thursday night was enough to impress Thomas.

“I thought he played very well,” Thomas said. “I didn’t see a lot of holes tonight. He worked very hard. I hope he expended a lot of energy and wore himself out a little bit, because I hope he doesn’t play that good every game. I thought he did a very good job.”

Holtby was not as impressed with his game as Thomas was. Despite holding on to tip after tip off of Bruins sticks at the end of the third period, Holtby said he felt his play deteriorated as the end of the game drew closer. Like many goalies, Holtby was thoroughly unhappy about the game-winning goal he surrendered to Kelly in overtime.

“I got a little sloppy with some things and those are the things I’ll need to make improvements on for the next game,” Holtby said. “I wasn’t there for the boys in overtime and I’ll definitely be better for that.”

But Holtby’s teammates and coach did not see it quite the same way. Captain Alex Ovechkin said he was bothered by the loss because Holtby had given the team chance after chance to win. Coach Dale Hunter credited Kelly’s overtime goal more to a fantastic shot by Kelly rather than any mistake by Holtby. After Holtby’s performance Thursday night, his teammates said they are now even more motivated to reward him with a win in his next game.

“We told you he was going to be a good goalie, and I’m happy for him,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We’ll just get him a win next game.”

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Braden Holtby,
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