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Holtby hopes playoff experience is an advantage

Capitals goalie has played 40 postseason games; Penguins' Murray has played three

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Braden Holtby knows what Matt Murray is going through.

Holtby was a 22-year-old rookie with 21 NHL regular season games under his belt when injuries to Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun pushed him into the spotlight as the Washington Capitals' No. 1 goaltender in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. All Holtby did was help the Capitals knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round and push the New York Rangers to seven games in the second round.

So, Holtby has a pretty good idea of what Murray is going through right now with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals' opponent in the Eastern Conference Second Round series that opens Thursday at Verizon Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

Murray, who will turn 22 on May 25, has played in 13 career NHL regular season games and now three in the playoffs while filling in for Marc-Andre Fleury, who is sidelined with a concussion. All Murray did was stop 85 of the 89 shots he faced in winning the final three games of the Penguins' first round series against the Rangers.

"Obviously, you're young and just excited to get the chance or whatever," Holtby, 26, said. "But, we're expecting him to play well. He's an extremely talented goalie and, just like anything, the gap between one and 60 in this league isn't very big, so you have to create goals that are going to go in against all 60 (goalies). You can't be focused on the other goalie. We expect him to make those saves when he's needed."

It appears Murray will begin the series as the Penguins' starter, but it's unclear what will happen should Fleury, who has been practicing this week, receive medical clearance to return. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan would then have a difficult decision to make about whether to play Fleury or stick with Murray.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm5: Murray denies Girardi's chance

Of the concerns Capitals coach Barry Trotz has heading into this series -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel to name a few -- picking a starting goaltender is not one. Beginning with Game 1 of that first round series against Boston in 2012, Holtby has started every playoff game for the Capitals since, except Game 2 of last year's first round series against the Islanders, when he was sick.

Following a regular season in which he tied Martin Brodeur's single-season NHL record with 48 wins, ranked sixth with a 2.20 goals-against average and eighth with a .922 save percentage, On Wednesday, Holtby was named one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goaltender, along with Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. Holtby has been even better in the playoffs, allowing five goals on 154 shots for an 0.84 GAA, .968 save percentage and had two shutouts in the Capitals' six-game win against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.

"He's been great all year," Capitals center Jay Beagle said. "He's been unbelievable. He's stolen us games. He's won us games that we shouldn't have probably won and he's been huge for us. He's been probably our MVP all year."

The playoffs are where goaltenders can become legends, however, and, few have been better, at least statistically, than Holtby. Among goalies who have played in at least 20 postseason games, his .940 career save percentage ranks first. His 1.76 playoff GAA is fifth in NHL history, and is the best for any goalie since 1941.

Video: WSH@PHI, Gm6: Holtby makes glove save through traffic

"He's the best goalie in the league," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. "When you have that kind of weapon on your team, it's huge."

Glaringly absent from Holtby's postseason resume is a Stanley Cup. He has yet to play beyond the second round, but appears to have his best chance of doing that this season on a deep Capitals team that rolled to the Presidents' Trophy with 120 points.

Holtby's consistency played a significant role in that.

"I would say he's been as consistent as any goaltender in the National Hockey League this year," Trotz said. "He's gotten a lot of attention for that from the record side, but you don't put a record together like that if you have areas where you haven't been that good for long periods of time. So, he's been pretty solid all year. I think it's his preparation, his work with [goalie coach Mitch Korn] and I think we've given him proper rest periods.

"He's played in a lot less games than he did last year and, hopefully, he's going to be able to play a lot more for us this year."

After Holtby led the League with 73 regular season appearances in 2014-15, the Capitals trimmed that number to 66 this season, which they hope will leave him fresh for a long playoff run. With 40 playoff games over six series to his credit, Holtby has the experience advantage over Murray in this series, but how much that will help the Capitals when the puck is dropped Thursday remains to be seen.

Holtby knows as well anyone that some young goaltenders are unfazed by playoff pressure.

"Every bit of experience helps in any way, shape or form," Holtby said. "Hopefully, you can feel a little more comfortable in those strenuous situations, but everyone's different. It just matters the moment you're in if you're going to execute or not. That's the focus. You can't reflect on the past or the future. It's stay in the moment."

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