MONTREAL – What a difference a night makes for Braden Holtby. At 7 p.m. Friday he was backing up Nolan Schaefer for the Hershey Bears in front of 3,653 fans at Glens Falls Civic Center. At 7 p.m. Saturday he’ll be playing in front of over 20,000 at Bell Centre in Montreal, a cathedral of hockey.
He found out he was coming back to the Capitals before that game, got a driver and made the three-hour drive, reaching Montreal at 2 a.m.
“You never really know when you’re gonna get the call,” Holtby said. “I’m just fortunate that I did, and I’m gonna be really focused on the game tonight and put in a good performance.
It’s been a whirlwind trip for Holtby. He was the NHL’s first star of the week and then beat the Canadiens here March 15. Then the Caps sent him down to Hershey where he struggled a bit to recapture his form. And now he’s back.
Holtby got the call because Michal Neuvirth – a late scratch Friday night in Ottawa – is sick. Semyon Varlamov made his first start since Feb. 20 against the Senators and was solid, but the Caps didn’t want to risk him playing two nights in a row.
“To us, Neuvy’s sick and we didn’t think it was fair to make Varly play back-to-back games when he hadn’t played in a month,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It just made sense to call Holtby up; he didn’t play last night, and Glens Falls is three hours from here, so it was an easy decision.”
Varlamov deemed himself 100 percent early Friday, and Boudreau confirmed that the young goalie was fine healthwise after the loss to Ottawa. Still, with Holtby so close, why not give him another chance?
“We don’t wanna put [Varlamov] in a bad situation, but when you haven’t played in a month and at a point of the season where there wasn’t a ton of practicing, the last thing you want him to do is overextend himself,” Boudreau said. “That’s what our thoughts were.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Holtby got his first game in Montreal jitters out of the way and is comfortable with playing at Bell Centre.
“Obviously it made it feel a little bit more comfortable, just being familiar with the surroundings and the area,” Holtby said. “But at the same time it’s just another game. You have to approach it with the same mindset that you have with wherever else you play. Just try and block out the extras as much as you can with the fans and the atmosphere and whatever and just focus on the little things you need to do to be successful.”