The playoff series between the Bruins and Capitals began as a goaltending mismatch on paper between a 37-year-old lauded veteran and a 22-year-old fresh-faced rookie with zero postseason experience.
The playoff series is close to over because the young Braden Holtby has outplayed the formidable Tim Thomas on the ice, where it matters most.
The latest chapter in the matchup between the two played out on Saturday afternoon with the Capitals taking a 4-3 victory over the Bruins at TD Garden to take a commanding 3-2 lead in the series. The plot thickens with Game 6 less than 24 hours later in Washington DC with the Caps given a chance to close things out at home, and the underdog sits just one more piece of Holtby brilliance away from skating off with the upset.
The third period told the tale for both goalies, but the numbers over the course of the series speak volumes as well. Holtby has a .946 save percentage through his first five playoff games while Thomas holds a pedestrian .922 save percentage that's very much in line with his average numbers from the regular season.
But back to the third period with both teams entering the final session tied 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. Holtby made the save of the series while kicking away a Tyler Seguin shot aimed for the vacant net opened up by a brilliant backhanded pass through the crease by Milan Lucic.
"It bounced off the backboards and it kind of happened quick," said Holtby. "They threw it out front and I just kind of read it last minute and got a toe on it, probably the very last piece of metal in my skate."
That stop preserved the 2-2 score and appeared to give the Capitals new life. Shortly afterward Washington potted a go-ahead goal when Joel Ward leveled a shot at Thomas from the left side, and the B's goaltender kicked a juicy rebound straight onto Mike Knuble's stick.
Knuble beat a leaping Thomas to put the Capitals ahead, but the Bruins scratched back with a Johnny Boychuk screaming blast later on in the third period. But the Capitals weren't done and they managed to score again on Thomas with a power play awarded in the last three minutes of the third period.
Troy Brouwer fired a shot at Thomas from the outside of the right face-off circle that the B's goaltender would normally handle with ease, but instead he simply missed the puck to his glove side. It was soft-serve no matter how goals are viewed by the discerning eye, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal given up by Thomas and the Bruins.
Did Thomas want those two goals back?
"I don't look at things like that exactly. The third goal I wish I could have controlled the rebound better. [Brouwer's] goal he fooled me and beat me clean," said Thomas. "He's coming down with a lot of speed. He shot and I read that the shot was going lower. By the time I even realized that the shot was going that high, I didn't even have time to raise my hand."
One goaltender speaking about his best save of the game, and the other talking about two that he'd like to have back: before the series started one would never have guess that Holtby is the former and Thomas.
But that's one of the major storylines of the series as the Capitals sit poised to knock off the Stanley Cup champs with one more Holtby-led effort.
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