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FIRST ROUND

Holtby ready to start new run for Stanley Cup with Capitals

In goal for Game 1 against Hurricanes after sitting out playoff opener last season

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- It was one of the defining moments for Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals during their run to the Stanley Cup last season, but he has little interest in talking about it now.

The Capitals goalie's focus is on Game 1 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVAS, NBCSWA, FS-CR).

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

"We're starting a new run," Holtby said Wednesday. "Our preparation is to focus on what we can do to have success in Game 1. Whatever's happened (in the past), now it doesn't matter. You try to prepare yourself through the regular season to be ready for the playoffs and that's where we're at."

Holtby was in a different situation last season.

Barry Trotz, then coach of the Capitals, started backup Philipp Grubauer in the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets after Holtby had a rough stretch in February and March. The Capitals lost each game in overtime, with Holtby replacing Grubauer to begin the third period of Game 2, but you already know that story has a happy ending.

The Capitals came back to win that series in six games and went on to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 43-season history.

"To me, that's his best growth moment as a hockey player, where you're not the starting goaltender, you're down 0-2 and you have to come in and basically run the table or at least get a win for your team or you're in some serious doubt of having success in the series," said Capitals coach Todd Reirden, an associate last season under Trotz, who now coaches the New York Islanders. "To me, that was the biggest statement he's made at that time as a goalie."

Prior to backing up Grubauer in Game 1 against Columbus, Holtby started 37 consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff games for Washington and 59 of 60 postseason games dating to the start of the 2012 playoffs.

How Holtby handled the temporary demotion did not go unnoticed. He supported Grubauer and accepted Trotz's decision, promising he'd be ready whenever he was needed.

Video: MTL@WSH: Holtby turns aside Gallagher's quick shot

"I'm sure he was pretty (angry) about the situation, but I think that's what you hope for from a teammate," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "If he's not getting an opportunity to start, I think you want him to be really upset. … Then there's that line where you want to be [ticked] off and disappointed, but you don't want to become a distraction to the group, and he obviously handled that as well as he could."

When Holtby got the call to start Game 3 at Columbus, he made 33 saves in a 3-2 double-overtime win that turned that series around.

"Right away, he was dialed in," forward Brett Connolly said. "He would probably tell you he had a few shots and a few saves early that helped him get in the game, but he's a world-class goalie, and in professional sports it's hard to be consistent all the time. Sometimes your game drops a little bit and he got it back right away."

After reclaiming the net from Grubauer, Holtby went 16-7 with a 2.16 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and two shutouts.

In 82 NHL playoff games, the 29-year-old is 45-37 with a 2.04 GAA, .929 save percentage and six shutouts.

He is one of four goalies with at least 80 playoff games to have a GAA of 2.04 or better, behind Turk Broda (1.98 GAA in 101 games), Dominik Hasek (2.02 GAA in 119 games) and Martin Brodeur (2.02 GAA in 205 games).

Most remember Holtby's stick save on Alex Tuch in the Capitals' 3-2 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights as his biggest playoff moment. But Holtby set the tone for the Capitals playoff run well before that, in Game 3 against Columbus.

"Obviously you go on and he has the save in the game in Vegas in Game 2 and you can go through some different things," Reirden said. "But to me that said a ton about his character, his belief in himself and his response to proving people wrong."

Holtby went through some ups and downs again this season, finishing 32-19-5 with a 2.82 GAA, .911 save percentage and three shutouts in 59 games. But he applied what he learned from his experience last season when he and the Capitals struggled in January.

In his final three starts before the break for the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game, against the Chicago Blackhawks (pulled in the second period of an 8-5 loss) on Jan. 20, the San Jose Sharks (7-6 overtime loss) on Jan. 22, and the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-3 loss) on Jan. 23, Holtby allowed 16 goals on 90 shots for a 6.74 goals-against average and an .822 save percentage.

Holtby went 15-7-2 with a 2.42 GAA, a .920 save percentage and one shutout in his final 24 games of the season.

"I've felt pretty confident in my game for the most part of the year," Holtby said. "There's obviously highs and lows in terms of results. I learned last year that a lot of that you just have to block out because a lot of it is out of your control. … Once we started doing all the details last year, it showed how dangerous we are, so that's another thing that we want to do this year and we're on the right path."

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