The Washington Times - March 22, 2012, 01:40PM

PHILADELPHIA | Braden Holtby was the first healthy goaltender off the ice at the Washington Capitals’ morning skate. Surrounded by reporters, he sure looked like the starter for Thursday night’s game at the Philadelphia Flyers.

He wouldn’t tell, and neither would Dale Hunter, who often likes to make his goaltending choices a state secret. But there he was before warm-ups doing his usual starting routine on the bench, and then he led the Caps onto the ice.

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He’ll make his second straight start Thursday.

As a goalie you always want to be in those pressure situations and this time of year it’s a playoff race,” Holtby said. “It was nice to get back into and back into it with the D core here and feel it out a bit. If I get another chance to start, then I’ll feel a lot more comfortable.”

Holtby stopped 30 of 33 shots against the Red Wings, fighting through third-period cramps caused by the heat at Joe Louis Arena by popping electrolyte pills.

If he starts against the Flyers, the battle will be in front of the net, as the combative Holtby isn’t afraid to clear out his crease with the extra jab or three.

I like to play a more physical game. I like when the team is in your face. That’s kind of my game,” Holtby said. “It brings a challenge and that competitiveness in me that makes it more fun.”

Kind of like a goalie who spent plenty of years in the City of Brotherly Love and had plenty of love taps for opponents in front of his net.

It took a couple seconds for Hunter to realize the comparison was being made to Ron Hextall.

“Hexy can really play the puck, too. So can Braden,” Hunter said. “He’s great at protecting his crease and playing the puck very well.”

Hextall was in his prime before Holtby, 22, was even born. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1987, almost single-handedly willing the Flyers past the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. Holtby was born in September 1989.

I think Ron Hextall was a little bit before my time. I never got to see him play in action, but any time that a competitor like that who’s successful in the league for a long time to be compared to his style is obviously an honor,” Holtby said. “But I’m definitely not Ron Hextall. He’s a legend in the game.”