|Who needs experience? Braden Holtby is up for the challenge||04.12.12 at 2:57 pm ET|
If all went according to plan, Braden Holtby wouldn’t have had an enormous media scrum surrounding him at TD Garden Thursday morning. If all went according to plan, he wouldn’t have even been there.
But that’s the hand the Capitals were dealt. First, starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been dealing with groin issues this season and aggravated the injury on March 29 against the Bruins. Then backup Michal Neuvirth suffered a lower-body injury when Panthers forward Marco Sturm fell on him on April 5.
All of this resulted in 22-year-old Holtby, the starting goaltender for Hershey in the AHL, getting the call to be the No. 1 for the Capitals as Washington opens the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Bruins.
“The whole reason I’m here is injuries, and that’s unfortunate, but that was my job coming into the year as the third guy in Hershey, to be here to step up when there are injuries,” Holtby said Thursday. “Unfortunately, they’re at this time of year, but it’s my job to [make up for] those unfortunate parts. I know both of them want to be on the ice, so I’m trying to take the team with me, to bring them up.”
He’s never been in the postseason before, and the fact that he’s untested in the playoffs is made worse by the circumstances. He’s facing the Bruins, who had an NHL-best 81 goals last postseason and averaged 3.24 goals per game in the playoffs. The Bruins’ 3.2 goals per game in the recently concluded regular season ranked second in the league.
“It’s a great challenge,” Holtby said. “You have to get through everyone to make it to the Stanley Cup. Everyone’s talking about the Bruins and the Rangers. Well, you’re going to have to play either of them or both of them. If it’s Boston right now, we’re up to the challenge.”
In 40 games in the AHL this season, Holtby had a 2.61 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. Those AHL marks are actually worse than Tim Thomas‘ NHL numbers this season, making it tough to compare the two net minders. That’s fine for Holtby, as he says he doesn’t look at games and feel he’s going against the opposing goaltender. Of course, he wouldn’t mind having Thomas’ success a year after Thomas had four shutouts in the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run and won the Conn Smythe.
“He’s obviously a battler, and that’s the reason he’s been so good,” he said. “It’s great to see a guy like that, that goes off of pure heart and determination and has been successful. It’s great and I respect the guy obviously a lot, but that goes out the window. I just want to win games right not.”
The fact that he’s even playing games right now wasn’t something the Capitals had been planning on entering the season, but Holtby has the opportunity to surprise a lot of people this postseason.