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Holtby bounces back to become Capitals rock in net

by Katie Brown

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby projects a quiet confidence no matter what situation he's in.

"He's relaxed all the time; in the dressing room, in practice," Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. "You never feel like he's going to have a bad game and that's something that we really like to see. He's been that way ever since I can remember."

That inherent calm came in handy last year, when the Capitals traded for Jaroslav Halak at the NHL Trade Deadline and Holtby lost his hold on the starting goalie job. The Capitals missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years and Halak moved on to play for a new team.

In the Eastern Conference First Round, which starts Wednesday with Game 1 at Verizon Center (7 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, CSN-DC), Halak will be opposing Holtby as the starter for the New York Islanders.

"It's a long time ago," Holtby said. "We're just excited about the regular season ending and ready to get going in the playoffs."

Holtby has more than made up for last season's setbacks, leading all NHL goalies with 72 starts, tying Olaf Kolzig's single-season franchise records for most appearances (73) and wins (41) and matching Jim Carey's single-season franchise record with nine shutouts.

"[Holtby] has stood on his head all year and been a great goalie, someone that we will rely on a lot in playoffs," forward Jay Beagle said. "I've played with him the last six or seven years. You could always see him growing and developing into that goalie that you know he could become, and this year he's really shown a lot of people that."

Grant Fuhr was the last goalie to lead the League in games played and win a Stanley Cup. Fuhr made 75 appearances for the Edmonton Oilers and won 40 games in 1987-88.

Only two other goalies besides Fuhr have had 40 or more wins, played in 70 or more games and gone on to win a Cup in the same season: Martin Brodeur, who had 43 wins and played 73 games in 2002-03 with the New Jersey Devils and Bernie Parent, who had 47 wins and played 73 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1973-74.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz believes Holtby's heavy workload will serve him well in the playoffs. Holtby started in 25 consecutive games for Washington before the end of the regular season, but fatigue isn't a concern.

"To me it's very important, knowing that you've got a guy back there who's been doing what he's done over the whole year," Trotz said. "If you look at some of the great influences of the guys who have played 70-plus games -- they've gone pretty far in the playoffs. They're used to being the guy and not always having a big game. They know that they've got to do it night in and night out. I think that's where having him play so many games is really going to help us."

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