Braden Holtby has officially registered himself as the answer for the Washington Capitals between the pipes.
The 22-year-old third string goaltender for the Caps has stopped 72 of the 74 shots that he's faced in the first two games of Washington's playoff series, and walked away with his first postseason victory in a 2-1 double-overtime win over the Bruins Saturday afternoon.
That elicited something close to verbal bouquets of praise from normally laconic Washington head coach Dale Hunter.
"He is a battler. He has confidence," said Hunter. "He is going out there battling just like the rest of the team. That is a good thing."
He was good early and often for Washington as he'd been in a 1-0 overtime loss on Thursday night, and doesn't look eager to give back the starting spot with Michael Neuvirth regaining good health.
"If we keep winning while I'm playing that's what we'll do. Whatever we decide as long as we're winning I'm comfortable with whatever decision," said Holtby. "Right now we're winning and we're playing for the team to succeed."
The Bruins seemed to enter the first game looking to test the rookie goaltender by throwing every manner of shot at the fresh-faced netminder, but now it appears Holtby is the real deal.
Not bad for a kid that had only 21 NHL games of experience under his belt entering the playoffs.
"Holtby is unbelievable right now. There is nothing you can complain about in his game," said Washington forward Marcus Johansson, who battled for the puck before setting up Nicklas Backstrom for the game-winner in double overtime. "The good thing is everybody is doing everything they can to help him stop the puck. I think when we do that, they don't get as many great chances as the regular season. I think that's something you have to do every game in the series."
Early in the game Holtby was sharp as Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron traded chances, and the Washington goaltender was able to smother Bergeron's smoked one-timer in the waning moments of the first period. He did cough up the one goal to Benoit Pouliot in the third period to send things into overtime, but bounced back nicely when hard contact with the Boston forward appeared to snap his back awkwardly.
He was still in command midway through the first overtime session when David Krejci was freed up for a prime scoring chance and fired a shot that Holtby was able to absorb while getting a clear look at the bid.
In fact, Holtby has been the beneficiary of a Washington defence that's blocked 49 shots in two games. They've created a crowd of Washington skaters in the slot area, and they've slowed down the Boston attack by virtually eliminating odd-man rushes.
Those are the kinds of things that can make life easy for Holtby, but the kid still has to make the stops when the puck gets thrown his way.
"He is playing great right now. We just hope he can continue to play how he is playing," said Alex Ovechkin. "In our mentality this is very important for us. This kid can save us and keep us in the game in overtime."
The 22-year-old Saskatchewan native hasn't likely seen the best of the Stanley Cup Bruins just yet, but he's clearly earned their respect - and maybe even a little of their frustration after standing on his head through the first two games of their head-to-head series.
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