BOSTON — Braden Holtby’s shutout and aura of invincibility were gone. Frustrating the Boston Bruins with save after save in Saturday’s Game 2, the Washington Capitals goaltender was cool as he lay on the cold ice at TD Garden after giving up the game-tying goal in the third period.
“Just trying to shake it off really,” Holtby said of what was going through his mind. “That’s not a time of the game where you want to give up a goal, but it happened and we couldn’t change that.”
But in rebounding from that to make 15 saves through the rest of the third period and parts of two overtimes, Holtby helped the Caps even this first-round series at one game apiece with a 2-1 win.
“Holtby’s unbelievable right now,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “There’s nothing you can complain about his him, his game.”
The 22-year-old making his second start in the Stanley Cup playoffs after seven regular-season games this year looked like a guy with a career’s worth of experience. Calmly blocking away shots, he took all the juice out of Boston’s dangerous attack, playing the role of a smooth criminal in stealing some should-be goals from the Bruins.
And making it look easy.
“He’s so calm back there, it’s very impressive to see,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who scored the game-winner. “He’s 22, so it’s very impressive to see him out there he brings his calmness, such a good confidence, too.”
Holtby doesn’t give off calm in the net like Michal Neuvirth. He’s more animated, willing to play the puck and hand opponents some punishment if they get too close. That earned him a minor penalty Thursday in Game 1, but it might have helped for Game 2 as the Bruins spent less time around his crease.
A lot of that had to do with team defense, too, as Holtby made 43 saves but didn’t have to exert too much energy doing so.
“Today, there wasn’t as near as much in our end, moving around and stuff, so I wasn’t as tired,” Holtby said. “Mentally, I just wanted to keep calm, take it save-by-save and just go from there.”
But when the Bruins did get in Holtby’s face, and when they finally scored on him in the third, the young goaltender showed he was battle-tested.
“He’s a battler. He’s got confidence,” coach Dale Hunter said. “And he’s going out there battling like the rest of the team is going out there battling. And that’s a good thing.”
It’s an even better thing if Holtby can string together more of these performances. Coming back home for Games 3 and 4, the way he’s playing, it won’t matter if Neuvirth or Tomas Vokoun is ready.
This is Holtby’s net, and the Caps are hoping he carries them against the Bruins and, just maybe, beyond.
“If we keep winning while I’m playing, that’s what we’ll do,” Holtby said. “As long as we’re winning, I’m comfortable with whatever decision, but right now I’m playing. I’m playing for our team to succeed.”
• Stephen Whyno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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