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CAPITALS: Bruins Finding Biggest Problem Is Beating Braden Holtby

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

This story appears in Saturday’s Free Lance-Star.

ARLINGTON – The frustration was apparent in David Krejci’s body language nearly a half-hour after he and the Boston Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals on Thursday at Verizon Center.

As if he wasn’t already physically drained – sweat beading on his face, his posture mangled as he slumped on a bench in the locker room – the emotional toll soon caught up with him. He and his teammates had fired 45 shots on Braden Holtby in Game 4 of the teams’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series, and somehow, only one managed to trickle across the goal line.

He struggled to comprehend how that could have happened. Then, after thought, he gave up.

“It sucks,” Krejci said. “You try to stay positive, but it’s so hard, you know?”

The disappointment is easy to understand. The second-highest scoring team during the regular season at 3.17 goals a game, the Bruins expected little resistance from the Capitals – a team whose 2.76 goals allowed ranked 21st and whose .909 save percentage was just a shade under the league average.

That was before Holtby. The baby-faced 22-year-old, in net because of injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth, has stopped 93.5 percent of shots he’s faced – the best mark for a full-time goaltender through the first four games of the playoffs – and has just a 1.60 goals-against average.

With the best-of-seven series tied at two games apiece, the Bruins will have to crack Holtby if they’re to take the advantage when they return home for Game 5 tonight in Boston.

“It’s a surprise for you guys, I think, but it’s not as much surprise for us,” said Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who will return to the lineup after being suspended by the league for Game 4. “We knew he was a great goalie. He’s so calm back there. He has good confidence too, and that’s what I like.”

The Bruins thought they had Holtby figured out in Game 3, when he allowed four goals after giving up just one in each of the first two games. They crashed the nets and tried to take advantage of rebounds, either by screening Holtby or by simply trying to catch him out of place.

But Holtby responded Thursday with a performance that ranks amongst the best. The 44 saves he made were the most by a rookie goalie in the playoffs since Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, who had 46 for Montreal in a victory against Boston in 1971.

“We think he’s going to be good like that every single game – and he usually is,” defenseman Karl Alzner said after the game. “That just goes to show how good he is, how thick his skin is to bounce back after four goals last game, and people saying that maybe the flood gates are open. Obviously, he did a good job. That’s a very veteran-like response, the way he played.”

Holtby has an understanding of his hockey history, and the comparisons to legendary goalies make him uncomfortable. So, too, does taking credit for his strong play, which was why he spent time Friday after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex thanking his teammates for clearing pucks and blocking shots.

Indeed, the entire team played a much more defensively focused game on Thursday, which included – again – shutting down the Bruins’ top two lines. Aside from top right wing Rich Peverley, who had a four-on-four goal in Game 3 and was on the ice with the fourth line when he scored the lone goal Thursday, none of Boston’s top forwards have found the back of the net.

“I think our groups of guys, our five or 10 guys who are out there against their top two lines – every shift has been doing a great job,” said defenseman Dennis Wideman. “Hopefully we can keep that going.”

The Capitals also scored Thursday on their power play – not typically amongst the team’s strengths – and will get a boost from Backstrom’s return.

It’s a best-of-three series now, with all three in four days.

“I think we learned a lesson in Game 3, that they are going to come back hard,” Holtby said. “We’ll be ready.”

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/dcsports/2012/04/20/capitals-bruins-finding-biggest-problem-is-beating-braden-holtby/

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