Braden Holtby’s Superman cape disappeared Monday night behind a swarm of Boston Bruins who made it their mission to make his life miserable. Their harassment in front of the net was kryptonite that humanized the Washington Capitals’ young goaltender in Boston’s 4-3 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Verizon Center.
The sensational form with which Holtby kept the Capitals even through two games in the series deteriorated just enough for Boston to come from behind twice and eventually score the game-winner on a deflected slapshot by Zdeno Chara with 1 minute, 53 seconds remaining.
"It’s just not following the puck," Holtby said. "Your eyes, some days they’re on; some days they’re just a bit off. You can tell right from the start. You know it’s going to happen, but you’ve got to battle."
Holtby spoke in measured tones inside the Capitals’ locker room afterward. He entered Game 3 red hot, one of the top stories of these NHL playoffs. He saved 72 of 74 shots through two games, good for a 0.83 goals against average that tied for the league lead with Tim Thomas, his adversary in this series and the MVP of last year’s playoffs.
On Monday, though, Holtby surrendered four goals on 29 shots, more goals than he had in 22 of his 24 career NHL games. He didn’t deserve blame for all four, and he did make enough rousing saves to keep the game close. But he was particularly critical of how he played Boston’s first goal.
Center Rich Peverley flicked a wrist shot from the top of the left circle moments into the second period, and the fluttering puck hit Holtby’s glove before finding the back of the net.
"That’s one I would like to have," he said. "It’s a good shot, well placed, but that’s one I feel my capabilities can stop."
Holtby’s self-critique was mostly unforgiving, but his teammates tried to shoulder the blame for allowing the Bruins to win battles in front of goal. Traffic factored in the Bruins’ final three tallies.
Daniel Paille was unmarked in front of Holtby midway through the second period when defenseman Greg Zanon fired a long-range shot. The rebound fell to Paille, who calmly cleaned it up into an open net.
As soon as Paille scored, Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault and defenseman Jeff Schultz exchanged words and looks of confusion nearby.
"He’s in the right spot at the right time, and we’ve got to do a better job of picking those guys up and clearing them out," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said.
The Bruins’ third goal was similar. One minute into the third period, Zanon sent another shot on goal from distance. Forward Brian Rolston outworked Washington forward Brooks Laich in front and finished the rebound.
Laich absolved Holtby of any blame.
"I thought he played really good again," he said. "He’s a tremendous goalie. We just have to make sure we don’t miss assignments in our own zone."
Chara’s game-winner was unfortunate for Holtby, who said he saw the puck all the way. Patrice Bergeron’s cross-ice pass found Chara above the right circle, and he blasted a slapshot that started low but deflected off Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik high into the goal.
"You go to block a shot and it goes off you and in the net," Laich said. "I mean, sometimes you can’t defend against bad luck."
Regardless of luck or traffic in front of him or anything else, Holtby coolly vowed to return to his early-series form for Game 4 Thursday night.
"It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it’s not the end of the world," he said. "You can’t be 100 percent at your best every day. That doesn’t happen. All you can do is be professional about it and make sure you do everything you can to be at a level that will make you succeed."
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