- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2016

Matt Murray has cast such a large shadow as the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ 21-year-old rookie goaltending sensation that it has eclipsed the play of his counterpart, Braden Holtby.

That, Karl Alzner said, is something he believes his Washington Capitals teammate has no problem with.

“I think we’re fine with that, too,” Alzner said. “Keep as much pressure off him and our team as possible. … He’s been playing great, so it’s fine. We’ll keep it that way.”

Holtby, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, was back to his dominant self on Saturday, finishing with 30 saves in the Capitals‘ 3-1 win over the Penguins in Game 5. That effort was highlighted by a three-stop sequence late in the second period in which Holtby turned aside the Penguins‘ Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz all within a minute.

Malkin first tested Holtby up high, driving the puck off one of the goaltender’s shoulders with a one-timer from the right circle at 15:39. The Capitals cleared the puck and went for a change as the Penguins recovered it in their own end, with Matt Cullen digging it out below the Capitals‘ goal line and flipping it to a charging Hornqvist before Holtby stopped his attempt from the doorstep with his right pad.

After Jay Beagle scooped the rebound and sent the puck to Jason Chimera for an attempt on the other end, the Penguins again recovered it, with Cullen entering Washington’s zone and passing to Schultz just inside the right hash marks. Schultz’s try, too, was foiled, with Holtby diving toward him and getting a glove on the shot.

“At that point in the game, obviously, we had created a little bit of offense before that,” Holtby said, referring to the existing 3-1 lead. “I wasn’t too happy with my performance in the game before, and I wanted to try to make a difference for our team, to show that I could rebound just like us. Some nights you make those saves, I guess.”

Holtby has allowed no more than one goal in five of the Capitals‘ six playoff victories, with the lone exception the 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 against the Penguins.

Until that game, Holtby had held opponents to fewer than two goals in each of his 14 previous playoff victories — a streak that dated to a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 4 of their second-round series on May 5, 2012.
Still, his performance had been constantly overshadowed by that of Murray, who has excelled following the Penguins‘ loss of top goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and has marginalized the Capitals‘ one clear positional advantage.

Murray entered Game 5 on Saturday with a 1.81 goals-against average and .944 save percentage across seven postseason games. In Game 3, he was just the second rookie since 1967-68 to have at least 47 saves in a playoff game, and earlier in the series, he became the first goaltender since 2011 to open his career with wins in four of five starts.

Those performances raised Murray’s profile, and the pressure only increased once the Penguins deemed Fleury healthy enough to play after missing more than a month as he recovered from a concussion.

Fleury went 35-17-6 during the regular season with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage, and he dressed as Murray’s backup for the first time in Game 3, leading to speculation that he may be ready to step in. Coach Mike Sullivan fanned those flames on Sunday, saying only that Murray “gives us a chance to win” and declining to clear up any confusion about who would be in net for the Penguins in Game 6 on Tuesday.

The Capitals touched Murray for three goals on Saturday, including their second and third power-play conversions of the series. The first, scored by Alex Ovechkin, went over Murray’s left shoulder and into the top corner of the net. The second, by T.J. Oshie, went over Murray’s left leg on a rebound attempt, and the third, by Justin Williams, trickled between Murray’s legs after a defensive-zone turnover at the doorstep by defenseman Brian Dumoulin.

“I thought I competed hard,” Murray said afterward. “Just a couple of missed saves here and there and that’s the difference.”

Holtby, meanwhile, was tagged just once, surrendering a power-play goal to Chris Kunitz on a rebound that fell dead off his left pad in the crease. That performance was a departure from the Capitals‘ three losses, in which Holtby allowed two, three and three goals, respectively, as the Penguins built the 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

He thought the overtime winner in Game 4 was particularly galling, as he figured Hornqvist would aim high but instead beat him low. He spent much of the next two days trying to refocus and even sat out the optional morning skate on Saturday — a rare decision that clearly paid off.

“Now, if we get goaltending like that the rest of the series, it’s going to be interesting,” coach Barry Trotz said.

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