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Experience proves irrelevant for Bruins in first round of playoffs 04.26.12 at 2:14 am ET
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In the days leading up to the decisive Game 7 between the Bruins and Capitals, there was a plethora of talk about experience — mainly that the Bruins had it and were thus the favorites while the Capitals did not.

A quick look at the history books reflects that attitude. The Capitals were 1-3 in Game 7s since 2008 while the Bruins were 3-3, and the Bruins won all three of those Game 7s last season en route to their Stanley Cup championship. According to the history books, the Bruins had a better idea of how to win Game 7 than the Capitals did.

But even a cursory glance at the Bruins’ supposed experience revealed how much the Bruins were lacking in that area. In 2011, Nathan Horton had two of the Game 7 game-winning goals, and Patrice Bergeron had one. In 2012, Horton was not in the lineup, as he missed the playoffs with a concussion. Bergeron was limited in Game 7 by an undisclosed injury that prevented him from taking faceoffs and slowed him somewhat from the relatively healthy player he was in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

In the end, long-term experience did not benefit the Bruins, as they bowed out of the playoffs with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals. Instead, it was more short-term experience, the experience gained from the other six games of the series and the games leading up to the playoffs, that provided a more accurate view of how Game 7 would go.

Throughout the series, the Capitals consistently beat the Bruins in blocked shots and faceoffs, small details that often reflect the strength of a team’s focus and desire. The Bruins outshot the Capitals, but the quality of each team’s scoring chances remained similar. Boston’s key players like David Krejci and Milan Lucic continued to be quiet while the load fell to players like Andrew Ference, who was 12th on the team in scoring during the regular season and the second-leading scorer in the postseason.

“At the end of the day when you look at your team, your team wasn’t playing its best hockey in this series,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Before this day started, you just hoped that you would get through this Game 7 and pick some momentum up as you moved forward in the playoffs.”

The Capitals already had their momentum before the playoffs. Washington did not clinch a playoff spot until the penultimate game of the season, and it had to fight hard for every victory. The Capitals went 13-9 in their last 22 games of the regular season, and eight of those 22 games were decided in overtime or by a shootout while 16 of the 22 games were decided by two goals or less.

In contrast, the Bruins went 12-10 in their last 22 games. Four of those games were decided in overtime or by a shootout, equaling the total of overtime games in the first round series of the playoffs.

“We’ve felt like it was playoff hockey for the last 30 games to make sure we get in the playoffs,” Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. “It wasn’t like we had to throw on a switch and start playing again in the playoffs, start playing a different way.”

The Bruins did have to start playing differently in the playoffs. Like many teams, the Bruins rested key and injured players after clinching a berth in order to be fresh for the postseason.

The epitome of inexperience in the series was Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, and he also proved that a lengthier resume does not always lead to success. With seven postseason starts, Holtby equaled the amount of starts he made during the season for the Capitals. Although the Bruins did not necessarily test him thoroughly, he still earned a .940 save percentage in the postseason, which was better than the very experienced Tim Thomas’s .923 save percentage.

“I was saying before we even came into the playoffs that it was good for this team to have a race to get into the playoffs,” Holtby said. “It really made us buckle down and not take things for granted, and that was a big thing.”

Now, perhaps because of that experience gained in the race to make the playoffs, it is the Capitals, not the Bruins, who have kept alive their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup.

Read More: Braden Holtby, David Krejci, Mike Knuble, Milan Lucic
Last chance: Bruins must expose Braden Holtby in Game 7 04.24.12 at 6:37 pm ET
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The Bruins have scored 14 goals against Capitals rookie Braden Holtby through the first six games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. (AP)

The Bruins have one more chance to get to Braden Holtby. If they do it, they should be able to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against either Ottawa, Florida or Philadelphia. If they don’t, they’ll be bounced in the first round for the first time in four years.

For the B’s, two of their three losses to Washington have been products of the team not being able to get clean looks against the Washington rookie. They’ve struggled to get legitimate shots by the shot-blocking Capitals and through to the net, so their bids either haven’t made it to Holtby, or he’s been able to see them perfectly.

In recent games, the Bruins have fared better. Though they dropped Game 5 at home, they got a goal on a rush (Dennis Seidenberg from Milan Lucic), a hard drive to the net (Brad Marchand) and missile from the point (Johnny Boychuk). In Game 6, the B’s put four pucks past Holtby, the last of which came on a rush in the form of Tyler Seguin’s game-winner.

“It definitely took us a while, but you’ve got to give it to him,” Marchand said of Holtby. “He’s been playing great hockey and making a lot of big saves, but we’re doing a pretty good job of getting bodies in front now and finding different ways to score on him. We’re going to have to try and do the same thing tomorrow.”

Holtby has had an impressive .935 save percentage in the series, but his numbers have been helped by the fact that he’s had performances such as Game 2 (43 saves) and Game 4 (44 saves) in which he faced a large total of shots but faced few legitimate scoring chances. Many of the shots Holtby stopped in those games came from outside the perimeter due to Washington’s excellent shot-blocking and overall defensive play.

Now, having seen enough of Holtby, the B’s hope they break through and have a high-scoring affair for once (no team has scored more than four goals in a game this series, and each game has been decided by one goal). One thing to watch is whether the B’s, if given the opportunity, take advantage of Holtby’s agressive style. In two overtime plays Sunday — Zdeno Chara‘s early bid and Seguin’s game-winner — the Bruins were careful to hold onto the puck until the last possible second in an attempt to get the goaltender to challenge them. It didn’t work for Chara, but Seguin kept Boston’s playoff chances alive by doing it.

David Krejci, who scored on the power play in Sunday’s Game 6 victory, agrees that the B’s have gotten progressively better looks against Holtby. Krejci was notably frustrated after Game 4 at his inability to produce, but he feels that he and the offense as a whole have worked harder to make the 22-year-old goalie’s job difficult.

“I think we had a tougher start, but the last couple of games, it was getting along,” Krejci said. “We’ve just got to keep it going. It’s a Game 7. We’ve all been there before, so we’ve just got to go out there, do our best and try to get a win.”

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Brad Marchand, Braden Holtby, David Krejci
Claude Julien: ‘Maybe in trouble, but we’re not dead’ 04.22.12 at 10:50 am ET
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The Bruins know the refrain by now.

The series isn’t over till you win four games.

They repeated it over and over last year on their way to a sixth Stanley Cup title. And Claude Julien repeated it Saturday after a 4-3 gut-puncher at the hands of the Capitals at the Garden.

“Well there’s certainly lots of guys in that dressing room that have gone through that and there’s some others that are new to our hockey club that have to manage that as good as they can,” Julien said. “A guy like [Brian Rolston], he’s got some experience so our guys that we’ve gotten are experienced guys so I don’t see that as an issue. We’re down 3-2 in the series and most people will tell you, until they win four games, that’s when the series is over. So we’ve got an opportunity to get back into this series and create a Game 7 and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

There were positives from Saturday that the B’s will try to carry over to today in Washington, like Milan Lucic getting in front of the net time and time again in the third period. Lucic’s “jam” in the slot created a point-blank chance for Tyler Seguin with 10 minutes left. Only a superhuman effort by Braden Holtby kept the Bruins from a late lead in their own building.

“There are some good things – I don’t think now’s the time to start collaborating all those things with players,” Julien said. “Sometimes you’ve got to feel that sting a little bit in order to get yourself ready the next day and we’ll address that tomorrow certainly before the game. Still a lot of good things that we did tonight and you look at some of the missed opportunities – Seguin is one, he had grease tonight and those opportunities were there for him, so that’s a positive. You wish he would have put some of those in and it’s a different outcome. But building on the positives, and as I said, we’re maybe in trouble but we’re not dead and we’re certainly going to make tomorrow a game that’s going to create a Game 7 for us.”

Johnny Boychuk finally blew a cannon past Holtby to tie the game on the power play to tie the game, 3-3. He sees a lot of hope.

“I thought we came out really well,” he said. “Again, [Holtby] played extremely well – he made that one stop and stretched out and got it with his toe. We did play well, but it wasn’t good enough. They scored more goals than us and that’s the end of the day. We lost the game and [today], we have to win.”

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Bruins, Braden Holtby, Claude Julien
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. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, Braden Holtby,
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