- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2017

For the past few days, the Capitals have heard all about how they need to play with desperation, to attack, to be aggressive. That’s a complicated mindset for a goaltender like Braden Holtby. He can’t attack, really. The game has to come to him.

For the first two periods of Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it didn’t. The Penguins took only 10 shots but Holtby gave up two goals. When the first, by Carl Hagelin, slipped through his glove, Holtby could hear a strong Pittsburgh contingent in the Verizon Center chanting his name derisively.


Holtby reminded himself not to let his mental game deteriorate. He has been thinking about that a lot throughout this playoff series.

“Yeah, I mean I felt good all game,” Holtby said. “It was more getting over that mental hump of two goals on not very many shots and getting over that. I like to take a lot of pride in my mental game and that was something I wanted to get better at if it happened again and I did a better job staying in it.”

By the time Holtby was making a much-needed glove save on Nick Bonino early in the third period, he was over the hump. Holtby got the action he wanted in the final period, stopping all 12 shots that came his way, and his performance seemed to spark the Capitals offense, which completed the comeback victory and avoided elimination.

“I thought Holts really stepped it up,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We got a lot of energy from those saves that he made.”

Holtby’s save on Bonino was followed almost immediately by the 27-second stretch in which Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the go-ahead goal and Alex Ovechkin added one on to give the game it’s final score, 4-2.

Up to that point, Saturday’s game had mirrored most of the others in this series, which Pittsburgh still leads 3-2. Excellent goaltending was a major factor in the Capitals regular season success but, so far in the playoffs, Holtby has not been his usual self. He put together a .925 save percentage in the regular season but, entering Game 5, had a .909 save percentage in the playoffs and an .867 save percentage in Games 1-4 against Pittsburgh.

Through those four games Holtby had faced only 83 shots against but had given up 11 goals. While Holtby said postgame Saturday he felt the Capitals offense had been taking too many low-quality shots, he’d been facing the opposite.

“It was more the defensive side of things we wanted to just hold on for as long as we can to give our offense some time because we knew they were going to come through in that area,” Holtby said. “It was better, it was a little more work which made it easier for me.”

Holtby finished the game with a line of two goals allowed on 22 shots. The figures are unspectacular but, when the Capitals were down to their last period, Holtby came through.

“Our leaders led,” Trotz said. “And I count Holts in that leadership. He’s been a part of our leadership. We don’t get a couple of those saves — this has been a tough series for us. I think a lot of the bounces have gone to Pitt, second goal the other day comes to mind where it goes off our skate and in the net, that’s mentally a little bit of a challenge.”

The Capitals need two more wins to advance, and all Holtby’s third-period performance Saturday guarantees is a little more action. He’ll take as much as he can get.

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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