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Capitals goalie Holtby has played almost full season

by Ben Raby

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby has heard all about the abbreviated 2012-13 NHL season, but the Washington Capitals goaltender has a unique perspective.

When Holtby and the Capitals face the New York Rangers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN), the 23-year-old will appear in his 67th professional game this season. It's the highest total of any goalie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Everyone is saying it's a short season or whatever, but it's almost longer for us that were in the American [Hockey] League," said Holtby, who appeared in 25 games with the Hershey Bears during the lockout before returning to Washington in January.

"That feels like it was two or three years ago already," said Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy, who was teammates with Holtby in the AHL to start the season.

"But I think some people might overlook that, that the games are packed in in the American League like they always are, but then the games were packed in up here [in the NHL] too, maybe more than usual, and he really carried the load at both levels."

Holtby started 11 straight games on two occasions for the Capitals this season, becoming the first Washington goalie to do so since Olaf Kolzig in 2000. Part of the workload was a result of injuries and illness to backup Michal Neuvirth, but Holtby welcomed the challenge.

"I like it more. You feel like you can play every game as the regular players do," he said. "It's been a while since I've played this many games, obviously, back to my junior days. But this is the way I like it. But you have to work twice as hard to make sure it happens."

Oleksy said he noticed Holtby's work ethic in Hershey and found it refreshing that given Holtby's success in the playoffs a year ago that the organization's No. 1 goalie stayed positive while riding the buses again this season in the minor leagues.

"He had a great attitude down in Hershey when maybe a lot of others in that position wouldn't," Oleksy said. "It's tough to put a letter on a goalie's jersey but he's definitely been a leader at both levels. Every day he's the guy that shows up to the rink to get better, and that's contagious, and when you've got a guy like that behind you, you feed off of it."

Holtby played 68 games (regular season and playoffs combined) with the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League in 2008-09, but he likely will eclipse that total if the Capitals advance to the second round.

"I've been fortunate enough to stay healthy through it all and there's no fatigue at all," he said. "As a goalie you kind of want to get on the ice. You want to stay sharp and not have that rust."

Holtby has not only stayed sharp physically -- he finished the regular-season with a 13-2-1 record playing 16 of Washington's final 19 games -- but has stayed strong mentally.

Among Holtby's strengths during the 2012 playoffs was his ability to rebound after a loss, with a 6-0 record, 1.24 goals-against-average and .960 save percentage following a postseason defeat. Though the streak was snapped in New York when Holtby and the Capitals fell in Games 3 and 4, he impressed again in Game 5 at Verizon Center.

After allowing a Brian Boyle goal on the first shot of the game, Holtby stopped the remaining 24 shots he faced and the Capitals rallied for a 2-1 win in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"He has shown that ability to bounce back, to not let things affect him, to put things behind him," Capitals coach Adam Oates said. "As I've said a lot of times, he seems to always want to play. He wants to be in the net. It's a great quality."

Oleksy said, "To have somebody like that that is so level-headed is huge for a team. Especially as a defenseman, to play my game with confidence, you know every game that he's in the net he's going to give you a chance to win."

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