Goaltender Braden Holtby -- the Capitals' third option between the pipes -- has stepped up in a big way for the Washington Capitals thus far this postseason.
When Florida Panthers forward Marco Sturm fell on Washington Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth as Neuvirth was in the butterfly position Apr. 5, every Capitals fan in the world held their collective breath. Neuvirth appeared to suffer a knee injury on the play, and trainers had to come on to the ice to attend to Neuvirth and then assist him to the dressing room.
With Tomas Vokoun already out with a groin injury, the Capitals had to turn to Braden Holtby. But with the playoffs beginning just a week later, and with Holtby having zero games of NHL playoff experience, everyone got that much more nervous about the Capitals' postseason.
Now, just two games into the Capitals' first round series with the Boston Bruins, Holtby has become the name on every analyst's lips. It's because of his surprising performance, one that has kept the Capitals in every game, both of which have gone to overtime partly due to Holtby's work in the net. The buzzword surrounding Holtby's hype is "confidence."
A Calder Cup winner in 2010, Holtby isn't new to the playoffs in general, but facing the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in a first round matchup isn't exactly what Holtby's used to. But he's stepped up to the challenge, stopping 72 of 74 shots in the first two games of the series, which is now split 1-1.
Holtby's confidence is spreading to his teammates, who are impressed, but not surprised by Holtby's comfort in the net despite being thrown into this postseason situation.
"Holtby's unbelievable right now," Marcus Johansson said. "There's nothing you can complain about his him, his game."
"(Holtby's) so calm back there, it's very impressive to see," said Nicklas Backstrom, who scored the double-overtime winner in Game 2. "He's 22, so it's very impressive to see him out there. He brings his calmness, such a good confidence too, I think. If he keeps playing like this we're going to help him as much as we can and take care of our chances when we get them."
The Capitals have helped Holtby by blocking 49 shots so far in the series and providing strong defensive play. Roman Hamrlik, who in part stymied the Capitals as part of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs by blocking shots, is up to his old antics, leading the team with nine blocked shots.
As for shots that have made it to the net, Holtby now has a 0.83 GAA and .973 save percentage in over 144 minutes of play in the first two games, putting him in first place among all goaltenders in both categories in this year's playoffs.
"He's a battler. He's got confidence," coach Dale Hunter said. "And he's going out there battling like the rest of the team is going out there battling. And that's a good thing."
Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior also has every belief that Holtby can carry the Capitals in the playoffs. "My approach with him is I don't want him overconfident; I don't want him doubting himself. I want him to go in there believing he is capable, just as he has been capable in his NHL wins," Prior said.
"There is no reason for me or Braden to even think he can't win these games."
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