The Washington Times - March 20, 2012, 01:36AM

DETROIT | Braden Holtby wasn’t at his best in the third period Monday night at the Detroit Red Wings, but there was a very valid reason for that.

Most goalies don’t like it hot. The young Washington Capitals goaltender fought through the oddly oppressive heat at Joe Louis Arena that caused him cramps to come away with his first NHL victory of the season.

SEE RELATED:


“I felt really good out there the first two periods. The third I don’t think I had enough fluids or something in me, electrolytes and stuff. I just started cramping up through the whole period,” Holtby said. “I tried to battle through it. The guys did a great job in the third, especially blocking shots. They could probably see that I was fatiguing a bit, and we pulled out a win.”

Holtby allowed two goals on 11 shots in the third period as the Red Wings got back into the game. The 22-year-old had stopped 21 of the first 22 shots he faced through the first two.

Fighting the elements, Holtby kept popping electrolyte pills to get him through.

Teammates might not have known what Holtby was going through underneath his padding, but they recognized and appreciated what he was doing to keep pucks out of the net.

“Holtsy was great. I thought he played really good. Obviously we let him down a little bit in the third by sitting back and we gave up a lot of opportunities,” said Keith Aucoin, who scored the game-winning goal. “I’ve been playing with him the last two, three years and he’s a really good goalie, he plays the puck really well and helps out the D. He makes a lot of big saves and he did that tonight.”

Holtby just got the call-up from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League Sunday morning after learning Saturday night he’d be going to Chicago because Tomas Vokoun’s groin injury flared him. He learned Sunday night on the plane that he’d be getting the nod at the Red Wings and enjoyed having the night and full day Monday to prepare.

Still, that’s not an easy situation to put a kid who played just one NHL game so far this season, a loss to the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 13 in which he allowed five goals on 35 shots.

But he excelled even when feeling the heat.

“He’s tough. He didn’t have a pregame skate. He didn’t have a skate yesterday. And he’s playing Detroit in Detroit. You put the guy in the hardest situations,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s tough to play like that, and I thought he did a very good job considering the circumstances. We all know how he can play and he probably knows to be a little bit sharper on a few of the things, but he did what he had to do to win the game for us.”

Coach Dale Hunter, who opted for Holtby over Michal Neuvirth, pointed to the back-to-back games and Holtby being a “battler” as reason for that choice. Holtby more than justified the call.

“He was solid. I imagine he had some nerves and stuff,” Hunter said. “But he was solid and he’s a battler and made stops in the third that we needed.”

That he made a handful of clutch saves in the third is made even more impressive by the cramps Holtby was going through.

“It was at a time, where basically after you make a push you cramp up, your calves or something like that,” he said. “If it’s starting to really play a factor in the performance, it’ll bring down the team and I’ll probably say something.”

But Holtby didn’t. And he didn’t consider asking out of the game, either.

“You just pretty much have to pull me off the ice,” he said.