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Victorious Holtby steps into the spotlight

by Corey Masisak

BOSTON -- A few days ago, Braden Holtby admitted he had only done a few media interviews during his time in the American Hockey League this season.

With each performance in this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series, the 22-year-old rookie goaltender for the Washington Capitals faced more and more attention as he became the breakout star of the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There he was again Wednesday night inside the visiting dressing room at TD Garden, removing his equipment piece by piece as a horde of reporters and people holding television cameras crowded around him and waited. He calmly went about his postgame routine before pulling on a sweat-stained Capitals hat and answering questions about how his seventh-seeded club had just knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions.


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"If I got rattled, I wouldn't be here right now," Holtby said after Washington's 2-1 overtime win in Game 7. "It's one of those things I've learned in order to get to this level. I've had to work on it and get better at it and obviously it has paid off."

Holtby is competitive and he is quirky. He has an edge about his game, not unlike the best goaltender in this franchise's history, Olaf Kolzig -- who now doubles as one of his position coaches.

He shoved Rich Peverley in the back during the second period and knocked him to the ice. Peverley got up and wound up with both hands on his stick, stopping himself just short of connecting with a full baseball swing on the rookie.

Holtby didn't flinch.

"You know, [Holtby] is a unique kid," coach Dale Hunter said. "Nothing fazes him. He's a battler. You know whatever he does he's going to try his best, and he gets rewarded for it. He's got great character, and the guys love him. When you call your goalie in net like a warrior, he's one of the guys like that."

All Holtby has done in the past two weeks is outplay the guy who won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies last season, authoring one of the best years by a goaltender in the League's history. Boston's Tim Thomas was solid in net against the Capitals, but Holtby was better. He only yielded one less goal than Thomas, but Holtby finished the series with a .940 save percentage and stopped 31 of 32 shots in Game 7 before Joel Ward's game-winner 2:57 into OT.

"I don't know if it is one-on-one like that," Holtby said of beating Thomas. "I'm proud of our team and how we out-dueled the defending Stanley Cup champs. They are a great team as they showed last year and this year, the way that they play is suited exactly for playoff hockey. It shows a lot about the character in here."

If defeating the defending champs and beating Thomas wasn't enough, Holtby had another reason to celebrate. This was his first playoff series victory of any kind in his career.

Holtby's junior team, the Saskatoon Blades, only made the playoffs one time -- in the season after Washington drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL Draft. They lost in seven games in the first round.

He spent two postseasons with the Hershey Bears, but didn't become the starter until last season -- when the defending AHL champs lost in the first round in six games.

"It's my first [series win] ever and it feels good to be in the celebration instead of watching it, that's for sure," Holtby said.

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