ARLINGTON, Virginia – There was no bad mood. It was his job, for all rights, and another man had been granted that position, had been allowed to take his team to ice in the Stanley Cup playoffs, to give a new attempt to finish Washington Capitals, long and well covered postseason fights. And, nevertheless, Braden Holtby did not complain or attack. He barely made a peep.
He told his coach that he was there, as long as the capitals needed it.
He worked on himself. He worked on his game. The goalie knew that he was not playing his best hockey and that he needed to be better. It's not like I was alone. Capitals would need to be better than they had been if there was any hope of achieving something in a season that, unlike many in recent memory, did not seem to end with the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.
"He did not pout nor was it a stern sport," defenseman John Carlson said on Saturday. "I just worked hard to improve and here we are, it's not a surprise."
Neither should it be.
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Holtby, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2016, is a goalkeeper with a history of firmness and brilliance. He has played in 361 regular-season games (353 starts) in his eight-year career with Washington, winning 225 of them with an average of 2.41 goals against and .919 saves, including a 2.07 GAA and a percentage of salvation of .925 in 2016 -17.
But this season was not that, something Carlson called "really weird" to experience, and questions had arisen as to who would be the Capital Coach Barry Trotz in the First Round of the Eastern Conference against the Columbus Blue Jackets . Opted for Philipp Grubauer .
"I had some time to really work on some things that I never really had in the last four or five years, work for a while on some things and really work hard," Holtby said. "It was time for the playoffs, being on the bench for games 1 and 2, it was not a big thing for me because [Grubauer] was playing very well and had the whole year." For me, I just wanted to enter with a positive attitude. and be a good teammate in any way possible. "
He played two games on the bench. Or not even
In Game 2 against the Blue Jackets, Holtby replaced Grubauer, who allowed eight goals when the Capitals lost the first two playoff games at home. After regaining the starting spot in Game 3, he has not looked back with a GAA of 2.14 and a save percentage of .923, as Washington finally outscored rival Pittsburgh Penguins on the way to the Cup final. The Capitals lead Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 in the series to the best of 7 with the opportunity to take command in Game 4 in Washington on Monday (8 pm ET, NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Video: Holtby & # 39; s Cup The final performance has been strong
Holtby has made a postseason in which he did not start the first two games, in which the Golden Knights goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury was anointed The winner of Conn Smythe even before the series, in which he has been the forgotten companion of Captain of the Capitals Alex Ovechkin in a Cup final in the that could have the time of signing.
After all, it was a great save.
With 1:59 remaining in Game 2, Holtby reached back with his cane to save the game and highlight the advance of the Golden Knights Alex Tuch to preserve a victory 3-2 in series for The Capitals their first participation in the Cup final (they were swept by Detroit Red Wings in 1998).
Video: How Braden Holtby made that great save in Game 2
"The guy is just a machine," said defender Matt Niskanen . "Since I came here, four years, [he has] I played a big load in the regular season, I was a superior goalkeeper in regards to statistics a couple of years ago, but has been in the top group of goalkeepers in the League for the time I've been here.
"It's good to do a little restart there in March towards the end of the regular season and since he came back to Game 3 of the first round, boy has been good. Doing the rescues that he is supposed to do seems really routine and has made some game changes, none better than the one that remains a couple of minutes in Game 2. "
It was a moment that will be seen again for fans of Capitals in the summer, especially if they win the Cup, but also stressed how far Holtby got in the regular season he had, one with the worst numbers of his career in the NHL (2.99 GAA, salvage percentage of .907).
] "I think just like any other player, especially for goalkeepers, confidence is the greatest thing," said defender Brooks Orpik . " When he has confidence, he is making saves, even when they are really difficult opportunities, he makes him look relatively easy and he almost does it with, I hate to use the bady word, but there is great coldness in the way he makes a save. "
And that affects the rest of his team, it affects the way the defenders play, how the forwards play, and it's fundamental to the way a team reaches this point in the season. Las Vegas, and again with the roll in which Holtby is currently, including including the flub he made with the puck behind his net in Game 3 that led directly to Golden Knights' only goal in a win by 3 -1 .
Because Holtby has trusted, the Capitals have been safe, through that first round against the Blue Jackets, the second round against the Penguins, and in the conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of staked offensive team that Holtby reduced to rubble with a shutout streak of 159: 27 to close the series, including two consecutive shutouts in Games 6 and 7 to seal Washington's second trip to the Cup final and the first in two decades
Video: VGK @ WSH, Gm3: Holtby denies Marchessault after Deke
"It's been a unique season," Holtby said. "I have learned many valuable things throughout situations, about myself, about the way hockey is now, it has changed, you have to play a little differently than in the past with the speed and the way the game it's mainly offensive now
"Obviously, throughout my career in hockey, you know that putting too much pressure on you and doing too much is never so good. And I got caught trying to do too much and it never works too well, and it ended up like a snowball.
"It was great to have a break in February where I could really badyze myself in a game, go to work, go back to those roots and work as hard as I could to discover things different from myself and the game. paper, but this year I think it's one of those years when I learned more and I got more knowledge than in previous years. "
And finally, the regular season that Holtby had won & # 39; It matters if you can get two more victories with the Capitals against the Golden Knights, using that new knowledge and a new understanding, using the skills that have always been useful to you.
Because it's been two months since he got his job back, since he found himself back in the place (and with the results) that he's used to, he has given everything he has. His best self, as he says it. Every day, on every play, whether it worked or not, if it was the save of the playoffs, or an error and a goal.
However, Capitals have always been saying the same thing to themselves, just as Ovechkin said in reaction that he saved Tuch: "Thank God he is our goalkeeper."
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