Herculean Holtby leads Caps past B's 2-1, even series at 2-2
For Caps goalie Braden Holtby, Thursday was just another day at the office.
That day at the office, by the way, included 44 saves on 45 shots by the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native. It marked the second time in four games that Holtby made 40+ saves in the series, he stopped 43 of 44 shots in game two to steal a win in Boston.
Not bad for a guy with zero NHL playoff experience prior to his start in game one. Sure he had AHL playoff experience and some while playing for the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL, but not NHL playoff experience on the biggest stage in hockey.
The result: a 1.60 GAA (second among all goalies in playoffs) and a sparkling .953 SV % (also second). Not bad for a guy that wasn't even supposed to be on the playoff roster. He was supposed to be called up as a black ace once the playoffs started, playing third fiddle to veterans Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth.
How quickly plans can chance in the NHL. Vokoun succumbed to a groin injury while Neuvirth is trying to come back from a knee injury suffered with just three games left in the season. With the Capitals still fighting for their playoff lives, they turned to the 22-year-old Holtby, who calmly led them into the playoff with wins against Florida and New York to qualify for the seventh seed.
But he wasn't done there, leading the Caps against the heavily-favored Boston Bruins and their stud Vezina-caliber goaltender in Tim Thomas. Holtby hasn't been phased, and has largely outplayed Thomas during the first four games of the seven-game series. It's been Holtby who has carried the bulk of the workload, facing 148 shots and stopping and oustounding 141 of them so far compared to just 109 for Thomas, who stopped 102 of them. While the B's netminder is no slouch either, it's been the youngster Holtby who's had to be better for his team to win, and he's been nothing short of spectacular.
Heck, NBC commentator Pierre McGuire wants to go into business with the guy already, making "Held by Holtby" t-shirts. (I know, I still hate Pierre)
That's beside the point thought, which is that Braden Holtby is the only reason the Caps haven't been swept already by the Bruins. The Caps are surviving thanks to their goaltending and it alone. The offense has been quiet, coach Dale Hunter can't get Alex Ovechkin away from Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg and Washington isn't getting great secondary scoring much like during the regular season.
The good news is that the mercurial Alex Semin has goals in back-to-back games and Ovechkin does have four points in four games (1 G, 3 A) in the series. More good news is that the Caps survived a game without center Nicklas Backstrom, who was suspended for his late-game cross-check on Rich Peverley in game three.
And if the don't break out offensively, they'll have a solid defense in front of the red-hot Holtby. John Erskine, who hadn't played in two months prior to game four, was solid in playing 11 mintues of ice-time, alot of which came late in shutdown work to keep the B's off the scoreboard. Erskine's big body is useful against the tremendous size of the Bruins front lines. Washington's shutdown pair of Karl Alzner (23:56 TOI) and John Carlson (22:34 TOI) were fantastic again taking away the rush of the Bruins.
From here on out its a three-game series in which Boston has home-ice advantage. The Caps knew the had to steal a game on the road early on, which they did. They'll have to do it once more and protect their building in order to stun the Bruins and move on to the Conference Semifinals. If they do, it'll be because of the man standing between the pipes.
Here's to you Mr. Holtby.