- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2012

BOSTON — With one huge goal from Nicklas Backstrom and 72 saves from Braden Holtby, the Washington Capitals are even with the Boston Bruins. After a couple of close games at TD Garden, the Caps have made it clear they can hang with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“I don’t know why anyone thought we wouldn’t be able to,” right wing Troy Brouwer said.

Sure, Washington’s players were confident before the series began; they were unburdened by high expectations and able to play loose. But they still weren’t respected on the outside.

That’s changed with the first-round series tied 1-1 going into Monday’s Game 3 at Verizon Center.

“Every team’s got another gear in the playoffs,” Brouwer said. “We’ve played great defensively in the last two games; we were patient. We kept pucks in good areas. We didn’t turn pucks over.”

In other words, winning playoff hockey.

It starts with Holtby, 22, a rookie who has allowed just two goals in the first two games; a 1-0 overtime loss in the opener and a 2-1 win in double overtime Saturday.

“He’s playing like a veteran,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “It’s comforting for us to see as players and just to see how comfortable he is back there.”

But Holtby is just one of the reasons the Bruins, who boast six 20-goal scorers, seem frustrated. The Caps blocked 49 shots total, with even Alexander Semin stepping out of his comfort zone to dive in front of one in overtime Saturday.

“For each other, it’s just got to be done. There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” defenseman Mike Green said. “It’s do or die, and those are the little things that are going to take us to the next level. That’s maybe the difference in the games.”

The difference certainly isn’t the offense. Players talked of being comfortable in games that viewers may consider boring. “For us, it’s fun,” Backstrom said.

It’s a departure from the Caps’ reputation, earned from the high-scoring teams of recent seasons. Coach Dale Hunter likes this trapping style, which limits opportunities on both sides.

“It’s playoffs, and it’s emotional out there. It’s going to be like this every game,” Backstrom said. “Not a lot of chances five against five; you’ve got to make sure when you get the chances you’ve got to put them in.”

Backstrom made good on that in Game 2 by scoring the winner. That kept the Caps from falling into a 2-0 hole, which Brouwer said would have been tough to rally back from.

Washington doesn’t have to worry about that thanks to a split in Boston.

“We need to keep that going. We need to stay out of the penalty box; our penalty kill has done well…. And Holts has been outstanding,” Hendricks said. “Those are recipes for success; we just need to keep playing that way.”

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