Photos: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
Braden Holtby came up big in the Capitals first round series win over the Blue Jackets, from the moment his name was called to enter the game in the third period of Game 2.
After Philipp Grubauer was named the starter for the first two games of the series, Holtby found himself sitting on the bench with a baseball cap on, instead of occupying his usual space between the pipes.
How did the Vezina Trophy winner go from “elite goaltender” status to a benchwarmer at the start of the playoffs? It wasn’t an easy decision for the Capitals coaches and staff.
Holtby did have one of his most forgettable regular seasons to date, while Grubauer played spectacular. Yet the Capitals were on the brink of an early exit after Grubuaer allowed four goals in both Games 1 and 2.
Holtby came in to Game 2 in the third period and stopped 7-of-8 shots. In Game 3, Holtby stopped 33-of-35 shots in a span of 89 minutes with the double overtime. Holtby’s best start of the series came in Game 4 where he stopped 23-of-24 shots for a .958 save percentage.
“He was outstanding for us. You look at Braden, his body of work in the four games was tremendous. I thought he made huge saves in important times in the game, in every game in the last four,” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz. “You’re gonna sometimes let some bad goals in or goals that you think you might have. When you needed to have the big save at that key moment we were able to do that.”
It was a great response from Holtby who had to ride the bench for Game 1 and two-thirds of Game 2. Despite the benching at the beginning of the series, Holtby handled it well. In a conference call last week, Trotz talked about that pre-series conversation:
“The one thing that stood out to me was that he said, “If I get a chance to come back in net, I’ll stop the puck. I’m ready if you need me.”
Game 5 was Holtby’s biggest challenge, especially in the third period when the Blue Jackets registered 17 shots. While they were able to get one past him, it was his big saves in that period that helped the Caps push the game to overtime. That led to Nicklas Backstrom’s eventual game-winner.
In Game 6, Holtby stopped 35-of-38 shots to help the Capitals close out the series. The offense stepped up with goals from Dmitry Orlov, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson and Alex Ovechkin twice.
“He’s been fantastic. He’s stepping up big time. He’s top goalie in the league and he showed it today and this series as well,” said Ovechkin.
Now with the Penguins on the horizon, the Holtbeast has redemption on his mind.
By Michael Marzzacco