Braden Holtby did just about everything he could Wednesday night. Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter said he "kept us in the game." Defenseman Karl Alzner said he was "making the big saves" at every turn.
But it was the one save in three overtimes that Holtby didn't make that cost the Capitals Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers, Marian Gaborik's shot from the slot that went five hole for a 2-1 decision that ended the third-longest game in franchise history.
"It's a loss," a disconsolate Holtby said afterward. "Maybe I'll accept it after the fourth round, after we win, but that's my job."
Holtby would love for a Stanley Cup to be the happy ending to this impressive playoff run, but he only has until Saturday afternoon's Game 4 at Verizon Center to bounce back. That's a quick turnaround, more emotionally than physically, but at least he has associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig to lean on.
Kolzig was the losing goaltender in the longest Caps playoff game, a four-overtime affair April 24, 1996, won by Pittsburgh 3-2. Petr Nedved beat him with a shot that Kolzig still isn't sure how it went in. His 2003 playoffs ended in triple overtime, 2-1 at the hands of Martin St. Louis and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I haven't been on the winning end of one of those, so I don't know how it feels after you win one of those, but I know it's pretty deflating after you lose," Kolzig said Thursday. "Just continue to play the same way. That's all you can say. You're going to have games like that. You're going to have games where your team bails you out. It's just keeping your emotions in check and playing with a steady level."
As a 22-year-old rookie questioned one minute and compared to Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden the next, Holtby has maintained the ability to stay on an even keel. He already has more NHL playoff experience than Michal Neuvirth and is just two games away from passing veteran Tomas Vokoun.
The poise he has shown in 10 playoff games, 5-5 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, goes well beyond what anyone figured as he was struggling with Hershey (AHL) this season.
Except, perhaps, Kolzig and goaltending coach Dave Prior, who weren't surprised.
"The thing with Braden was just consistency. That was the thing we were worried about: Could he do it night in and night out? What really impressed me most about him in the playoffs is his resiliency," Kolzig said. "Whether he gives up a bad goal or has a bad game, he'll come back and make that next big save or he'll come back and win the next game."
Holtby, who made a career-high 47 saves in Wednesday's loss, has gone 25 NHL games without back-to-back losses.
"He'll get tested with that again on Saturday," Kolzig said. "The mental toughness, the resiliency and the calmness, it's been impressive to watch."
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