- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2012

Braden Holtby hadn’t even let the sweat from his hair settle after beating the Boston Bruins in Game 4 before reeling in that accomplishment and looking forward.

“That’s a big game for us, but it’s far from easy from now on,” the goaltender said. “It’s a best-of-three now, but the games are going to get harder as we go on.”

That’s the way the Washington Capitals should be thinking now, even after an impressive goaltending and defensive performance evened the first-round series. The Bruins still have home-ice advantage with potentially two more games at TD Garden.

To advance, the Caps must win at least once more in Boston, but they know it’s more than possible thanks to a win there last week and two more during the regular season.

“We’ve been playing good there, and I think we just have to go and play the same way,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “I think Games 1 and 2 are the most recent games and the ones you look at the most. But winning there in the regular season shows that we absolutely can do it and we have the capability to. We just have to go out and do it.”

That starts with Game 5 on Saturday afternoon. At no point in this series has either team had more than a one-goal lead. Even when seven were scored in Game 3, no offense was running away with it.

Tight games against the offensively-gifted defending Stanley Cup champions has Nicklas Backstrom happy about where this series stands.

“Absolutely. It’s two good teams out there, and it’s not a lot of chances out there,” said Backstrom, who returns from a one-game suspension Saturday. “Both teams play really tight, and Holtby’s been playing great and they have a good goalie too, so you’ve got to make sure you avoid the mistakes and when you get the chances, you’ve got to bury them.”

Coach Dale Hunter and others lamented the amount of odd-man opportunities the Caps surrendered in Game 4. That can’t continue.

“I think we’ve got to slow down a little bit,” said defenseman Dennis Wideman, who’s been on the ice for five of Boston’s seven goals in this series. “We can’t be giving a team like that two-on-ones or three-on-ones. We gave them quite a bit of three-on-twos [Thursday] night, too, so Holtby played really, really well for us last night, and I think we’ve got to tighten it up going forward here.”

Keeping a defensive mindset is much different than years past for this core group, but it’s essential to playoff success. Allowing fewer quality chances gives Holtby more opportunities to make saves and less pressure be a one-man show.

But keeping that up won’t be easy, either. Several key Bruins stars, such as Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron, have yet to score in this series. Hunter knocked on wood when that was brought up Friday.

“It’s a team game and we know they’re good players. We know what they can do,” the Caps’ coach said. “They can score five-on-five as well as power play. So they’re dangerous guys. So far the guys have been busting their tails.”

And the approach won’t change with the seven-game series reduced to which team can capture two of the next three.

“We’ve got to have the same mindset. We have to play the same game plan and play smart,” forward Keith Aucoin said. “When we’ve been successful this series, we’ve played smart, we’ve got pucks in deep, we’ve got pucks in at the blue lines. We’ve got to continue to do that.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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