WASHINGTON -- The heavily-favored Washington Capitals saw firsthand in their 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Montreal Canadiens the impact that an unproven goalie can make on the big stage.
The Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 series deficit and won the final three games of the series behind then-24-year-old Jaroslav Halak, who stymied the Caps and stopped 140 of 143 shots in Games 5, 6 and 7.
Two years later, the unproven goalie and the role of the underdog are both on the Capitals' side. Braden Holtby, 22, turned aside 72 of 74 shots in Games 1 and 2 of Washington's first round series against the Boston Bruins, allowing the Caps to return home with the series tied at a game apiece.
"Obviously there's a lot of talk of the first two games, with low-scoring, especially with goaltending," Holtby said. "My game really didn't change too much. It was basically the way we played, the way the game was played as a whole as to why I was successful. I want to work on some things; I want to be better and to get better throughout the series. Right now all the focus is on Game 3."
Game 3 is Monday at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC) where Holtby will make his fourth straight start dating back to the regular-season finale. Holtby has started four straight NHL games just once before in his career (March 9-15, 2011).
Goalie - WSH
GAA: 0.83 | SVP: 0.973
Asked if he would consider changing his starting goalie once either Tomas Vokoun
or Michal Neuvirth
return from injury, Caps' coach Dale Hunter
was pretty forthright.
"It's not even…" Hunter said before trailing off. "[Holtby] is our goalie."
There is still no timetable for Neuvirth's possible return from a lower-body injured he sustained Apr. 5 against the Florida Panthers. Neuvirth continues to practice with his teammates and accompanied the team to Boston for Games 1 and 2, but did not dress.
Tomas Vokoun seems further away from any potential return. Vokoun aggravated a groin injury March 29 in Boston and has not played or practiced since.
But with the cool, calm and collected Holtby riding an 0.83 goals-against-average and .973 save percentage through his first two career Stanley Cup Playoff starts, the team in front of him has reason to believe.
"He's been outstanding both games," Matt Hendricks said. "He came in and he's playing like a veteran. It's comforting for us to see as players and just to see how comfortable he is back there -- playing the puck, making the saves, talking to the defensemen, letting them know. He's been great."
Added Brooks Laich: "He's a very composed and calm kid. He's not coming into the series and feeling a lot of pressure; he's just coming in and playing his game. We have a lot of confidence in him -- he's going to make the saves, he's covered rebounds and he's kicking things to the corner so he's played great."
Making Holtby's early success in his NHL playoff career is his limited postseason experience at any level. While his Bruins counterpart Tim Thomas won 16 NHL playoff games last spring, Holtby entered this series with only 16 total games of playoff experience at any major level (nine games in the American Hockey League and seven games in the Western Hockey League).
"He just looks like a kid that is having fun playing the game," Laich said. "If you're in his shoes, you're in Hershey most of the year and now you come up with the chance to play in the NHL playoffs, he's licking his chops and pretty excited to be in there."
"It's the best time of year," Holtby said. "Playoffs is the best time of year. It's been fun so far, but the real fun comes in being successful. Right now we're 1-1 in the series, but we have a goal of winning four games."