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Round 1

Braden Holtby, Capitals won't look back

Goalie focused on winning Cup, not dwelling on second-round ouster last season

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Washington Capitals' Stanley Cup dreams ended last season with goaltender Braden Holtby lying face down in front of his net while the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated.

Nick Bonino scored 6:32 into overtime of Game 6 to send the eventual Stanley Cup champions to the Eastern Conference Final, and the Capitals into the offseason facing more questions about why they haven't been able to carry regular-season success into the postseason.

They would have to wait another season to get another chance to prove they can be champions. Now it's finally here.

 

[RELATED: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs playoff preview]

 

After winning the Presidents' Trophy for the second consecutive season, the Capitals open the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday at Verizon Center (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports).

As much as Holtby is looking forward to starting the playoffs, he said he is not approaching this Game 1 any differently.

"Everyone loves the playoffs, but I try to take every game the same so it doesn't make a difference to me when the playoffs come around," Holtby said. "I'm trying to prepare my best for the next game. I don't believe I have an extra level. I'm trying to get to that level every single game."

That even-keeled approach has worked well for Holtby, who won the Vezina Trophy last season and is one of the favorites to win it again this season. Holtby (42-13-6) became the third goaltender in NHL history with three consecutive seasons of at least 40 wins, joining Martin Brodeur (2005-06 to 2007-08) and Evgeni Nabokov (2007-08 to 2009-10).

Video: FLA@WSH: Holtby pads away Huberdeau's backhander

"That was the goal," Holtby said. "Obviously, it's a tough thing to accomplish, but when you have a team like ours it's a realistic goal. … That was one of the regular-season goals and you move on to the next thing."

Moving on is essential for a goaltender, particularly after giving up a goal. As Holtby said, "The goal is shut it out as quickly as you can."

That process began shortly after Holtby picked himself up off the ice following the Capitals' elimination in Pittsburgh in May. Holtby had a long summer ahead of him and easily could have spent it pondering what he could have done differently on Bonino's series-winning goal. But he didn't.

"Some guys maybe will think about it all the time, but I guess I try to focus on every goal the same way after I watch them," he said. "I'm numb after that. I really don't know what else I could have done. … It was a good play. It was one of those plays that they earned that goal."

Holtby did a split to make a spectacular right pad save on Carl Hagelin's initial shot from the slot, but Bonino was at the left post to backhand in the rebound.

"You can't look at one single play if you're going to try to improve on a year before," he said. "You can't dwell on that. You mainly dwell more on preparation, how we prepared throughout different games, and that's where we're going to get better."

Holtby won 14 consecutive decisions from Jan. 1 to Feb. 11 (three short of the NHL record set by Gilles Gilbert of the Boston Bruins in 1975-76) and earned points in 21 consecutive decisions from Dec. 29 to March 4, going 19-0-2 with a 1.67 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts.

Though Holtby tied Brodeur's NHL record with 48 wins and won his first Vezina last season, an argument can be made he's played even better this season. 

In 66 games last season, Holtby was 48-9-7 with a 2.20 GAA, .922 save percentage and three shutouts. In 6x games this season, he went 42-13-6 (tied for 1st in the NHL in wins), with a 2.07 GAA (2nd), .925 save percentage (4th) and nine shutouts (1st).

Video: WSH@MIN: Holtby slides across to turn away Staal

"It would be crazy saying he's played better than he did last year and I wouldn't say he hasn't played as well," Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think you just have to marvel at his consistency."

Holtby believes he has been more consistent than last season and credits that to the way the Capitals have played in front of him.

"I think we've been playing a lot better defensively all year," he said. "I think we've grown in that area and it shows."

Holtby has played a role in that, too.

"It's mental makeup, it's preparation," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I think it's the team in front of him as well as him staying tight and understanding how to manage games."

That will be even more important in the playoffs, when every mistake is magnified. Although Holtby's playoff numbers last season were impressive - a 1.72 GAA, .942 save percentage and two shutouts -- he didn't play as well against the Penguins as he did in the Capitals' six-game victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.

Against the Penguins, Holtby had a 2.57 GAA, .923 save percentage and no shutouts. Against the Flyers, he had an 0.84 GAA, a .968 save percentage and two shutouts. Holtby confirmed he injured his left knee during practice on the day between Games 3 and 4 of the Flyers series, but downplayed how it impacted his play, saying: "That's what the playoffs are for. You battle through that stuff."

His focus now is on being the same goaltender in the upcoming playoffs as he has been all season. No more. No less.

"The playoffs to me is more blocking things out as opposed to trying to be a hero," he said. "You work on your game throughout the year so that you are at your top coming into the playoffs."

Video: CBJ@WSH: Holtby makes a spectacular sprawling save

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