- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2012

BOSTON — Braden Holtby was brilliant, and his Washington Capitals teammates knew it. As the Boston Bruins celebrated their 1-0 overtime victory, Caps players consoled their young goaltender who was the prime reason they even had a chance to steal Game 1 at TD Garden on Thursday night.

“He played unbelievable,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “It’s tough because he wants to try to  prove to the guys that he’s a great goalie. Sometimes goals are going to go in. You can’t save them all, but he put a hell of an effort forward tonight.”

Holtby just about saved them all, 29 out of 30 in a magnificent Stanley Cup playoff debut. At 22 years old, the nerves were evident early, but he looked like he had been playing in NHL postseason games for a decade. Settling in after some early jitters, he battled a ferocious Bruins onslaught from a team playing off the energy of an intense crowd and the experience of being the defending Stanley Cup champions.

With the puck just about glued in the Caps’ defensive end for a second period in which they were outshot 17-2, Holtby excelled, especially on the penalty kill.

“In the second period, we took a lot of penalties and he had to be sharp,” coach Dale Hunter said. “They fired a lot of one-timers, and he was real sharp and kept us in there.”

Teammates gushed about Holtby’s poise and composure in yet another heated situation. Even though he appeared in just seven games during the regular season, so many were the kind of pressure spots that test a young goaltender’s confidence.

Often confident bordering on brash, Holtby had no doubt he was ready to be a playoff starter.

“Coming into the game, he had confidence in himself,” Brouwer said. “He showed it tonight, and I hope he showed everybody else that he’s a hell of a goaltender.”

Thursday had the makings of a fairy-tale opening to this playoff run for Holtby, as he tried to outduel reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie Tim Thomas, who made 17 saves, including the stop of the night on Alex Ovechkin early in the third period.

Holtby put on his best Ron Hextall impression by taking a roughing penalty when Bruins forward Chris Kelly got too close and his best Patrick Roy by withstanding the pressure for three periods.

“I felt all right. Later on in the game, I felt like there was some things I needed to be better at,” Holtby said. “I got a little sloppy with some things and those are some things I’ll need to improve on for the next game.”

Ultimately, Holtby couldn’t finish off the shutout as Kelly fired one past him just 1:18 into overtime. The puck appeared to change direction off Dennis Wideman’s stick.

Hunter called it a “perfect shot” that not many goaltenders would have stopped. But that didn’t prevent Holtby, who said he lost sight of the shot, from criticizing himself.

“Mainly, I wasn’t there for the boys in overtime,” he said, “and I’ll definitely be better for that.”

After a game that Holtby almost won by himself, though, the Capitals want to be better in front of him in Game 2 and beyond.

“We told you he was going to be a good goalie, and I’m happy for him,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We’ll just get him a win next game.”

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