PHILADELPHIA — Braden Holtby embraces this.
A playoff atmosphere, a close game, nine games left in the regular season with the Washington Capitals in the playoff chase.
“It’s what you want,” Holtby said. “That’s the best feeling ever being a goalie: You wouldn’t have made it as far as a goalie if you didn’t like pressure.”
He got plenty of it Thursday night and responded with just about what you’d expect from a 22-year-old stud prospect making just his third NHL start of the season. Mistakes were there, but so were flashes of brilliance, and it ended with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
“That was terrible,” a disconsolate Holtby said. “Those two goals aren’t even good goals for the players to score.”
But the Flyers could’ve scored countless times before. They did when Holtby made the unthinkable blunder of leaving his net when All-Star Claude Giroux made Dennis Wideman into a turnstile. Holtby loves to leave his crease and he let his instincts take over.
“I got caught halfway. When he had his head down kind of going around Wides, the right play I think with my game is to slide, poke-check and surprise him,” he said. “And I just kind of did a halfway effort and didn’t slide in, go aggressive as I needed to and that’s why it got around me. That’s a play I’d like to have back, but one I’m not going to dwell on.”
He shouldn’t because he responded well. Holtby was the beneficiary of a few nice breaks, like when Philadelphia forward Jakub Voracek slid the puck through his pads but a couple of inches wide of the right post. Other times, Holtby was in scramble mode, but he didn’t falter until the shootout.
“Holtby played hard. They’ve got good snipers coming down on him: A lot of goals on them sticks over the years,” coach Dale Hunter said. “You know, he did a good job.”
It was the second straight game Hunter turned to Holtby, an impressive endorsement of the kid with a playoff berth potentially on the line every night. With this shootout loss, they’re four points back of the Southeast Division leading-Florida Panthers and are clinging to a one-point lead on the Buffalo Sabres for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
That’s because the Caps weren’t able to crack Ilya Bryzgalov for the final 64:34 and 30 shots of game action after Alex Ovechkin scored on the first shot. They only beat him once in the shootout, with Matt Hendricks using his patented move.
Meanwhile, Holtby in the shootout allowed goals to Matt Read (five hole) and Wayne Simmonds (low glove). The young goalie came away from that experience upset at himself but learning a valuable lesson.
“I was just trying to force [Simmonds] to shoot glove. That’s the unwritten rule in goaltending: You make them make the first move, and I didn’t,” Holtby said. “That’s, like they’d say, I guess a rookie mistake and that’s one I definitely won’t make again.”
It’s on to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night, when Holtby may or may not get an immediate chance to redeem himself.
“We would have liked to be able to get the second one, but at least we’re still collecting points, and on the road in a tough building it’s a good sign,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We got a big game tomorrow against Winnipeg who we feel is going to be maybe a make-or-break game in our season, and we’re excited about tomorrow night’s game already.”
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