- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tomas Vokoun sounded like a goaltender ready and willing to start in yet another “biggest game of the season” for the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at Boston.

So did Michal Neuvirth. And Braden Holtby, even after being yanked in Tuesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, remains confident in his bid to start after a week of mostly strong play.

With just five games left and on the outside of the playoff picture, the Capitals have three goalies who want to take the reins, and no clear-cut starter.

“We’re fortunate to have three goalies that can play in the National Hockey League, so it’s just a matter of which gives us the best chance to win that game,” coach Dale Hunter said. “It’s better than having no goalies ready to play. This way, I have three goalies that did well, and now it’s up to me to make the right call for who I put in.”

It’s a dangerous game of goaltender roulette because the wrong call can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

To go with Holtby on Tuesday seemed like a no-brainer, but the calls start becoming more difficult. Vokoun pronounced himself “available” and ready to play after battling a lingering groin injury, and the veteran has 25 of the Caps’ 38 wins this season.

“I’m almost 36 years old and … for some guys there’s so many more chances. Probably not for me,” Vokoun said. “So this rides a lot for the team and for me on these next five games. So if you can, you want to be in there.”

So it has to be Vokoun … unless it’s Neuvirth. The 23-year-old’s game seemed to be rounding into form earlier this month, but he has played in just four of the past 10 games, thanks to Holtby’s run.

Neuvirth, who called his game and confidence “good,” is accustomed to this carousel ride.

“I got kind of used to it. You never know, and it is what it is. You’ve just got to work hard in the practices, and if you’re told you’re playing, you’ve got to give your best,” he said. “It’s not my decision. That’s why we’ve got a coach … I’m pretty sure me, Holtsy or Vokey is going to try our best.”

Yes, Holtby, the 22-year-old recent call-up from the American Hockey League who tried his best to make a dark-horse run to be the Caps’ playoff goaltender.

“I’m confident in my abilities. As to carrying the team into the playoffs, I really don’t know how to answer that because I’m focusing on this game,” Holtby said Tuesday, before giving up three goals in just more than a period against the Sabres. “I’d love to. That’s the goal, obviously, for anyone.”

That’s the goal for Vokoun, Neuvirth and Holtby, and the Caps’ playoff hopes ride on which goaltender or goaltenders Hunter chooses to ride down the stretch.

For players, there are obvious differences, such as how much each goalie likes to handle the puck. But for the most part, the Caps don’t care.

“For us as players, it’s easy; I don’t know what it’s like for the goalies,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We’re all comfortable with any one of them, so it doesn’t matter.”

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

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