Braden Holtby did it with flair. Even routine glove saves were snared out of mid-air as the crowd went crazy.
“Try and zone them out,” he said. “It’s great. It’s awesome to have that fan support. Not putting that down at all. But that can get your heart racing pretty quick if you let it. My job is to control my emotions and make sure I’m focusing on the next save.”
Always composed, the 22-year-old never once looked rattled by the pressure of the Boston Bruins‘ attack and the possibility of falling into a deep hole in this first-round series.
As the Bruins fired rubber at him almost nonstop for long stretches, Holtby ignited the Verizon Center crowd and simultaneously kept the Caps in the game. The offense was limited, but enough, as Holtby stole Game 4 with a 2-1 victory over Boston that evens the series at two games apiece.
“Holts was great,” forward Brooks Laich said. “When you have a goaltender that smothers everything that’s thrown his way, it’s very calming to the rest of your team. … He was a stud.”
“In the playoffs you need to win at home; you need to win those big games in crucial times to be successful,” Holtby said. “That’s a big game for us, but it’s far from easy from now on. It’s a best of three now, but the games are going to get harder as we go on.”
But the series is all even because Holtby put on a show worthy of Caps playoff lore, making 44 saves. Doing so in entertaining fashion pumped up not only the fans but his teammates.
“I love watching that, and I think the best part about it is he makes a great glove save and drops the puck and leans on his post,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He makes it look so easy.”
In the rare cases, Holtby allowed some juicy rebounds on pucks that bounced to the area in front of his crease. The Caps, however, did not allow a shot in the final seven-plus minutes, and Jay Beagle earned plenty of praise for blocking a Johnny Boychuk attempt in the waning seconds.
“The play of the game was Beagle’s block at the end there,” Holtby said. “By far, that’s a play where everyone goes, [we’re] thankful that he did that. That was the difference in the game.”
But he did have a lead to play with for much of the first, thanks to Marcus Johansson’s goal on a two-on-one rush just 1:22 in. Brooks Laich made it all happen with a delayed pass that teed up Johansson to fire the puck past goalie Tim Thomas on the first shot of the game.
Even when Rich Peverley scored to break up the shutout, it was tough to blame Holtby, who looked almost superhuman all night. He again outdueled Thomas, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner.