ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals are preparing yet again to go with an inexperienced goalie in the playoffs. This time, they can’t do much about it.
Neither Tomas Vokoun nor Michal Neuvirth was able to practice Monday, leaving Braden Holtby looking more and more like the starter for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Boston Bruins.
“We’ve done it before, and we have no choice,” general manager George McPhee said. “If the other guys aren’t ready to go, he’s playing.”
Neuvirth, who was injured in last week’s win over Florida, skated for about 15 minutes before practice on his ailing left leg but didn’t look close to returning. McPhee said Neuvirth will “try to practice a little bit” Tuesday and would play in the series “if everything goes OK in the next few days.”
Vokoun is further behind as he recovers from a groin injury that has sidelined him since March 29.
This would mark the playoff debut for Holtby, who was 4-2-1 in the regular season during his call-ups from the Capitals’ AHL affiliate in Hershey. The 22-year-old goalie made his NHL debut in Washington in 2010-11, going 10-2-2.
Holtby’s backup would be journeyman Dany Sabourin, who was recalled from Hershey on Monday and hasn’t played in an NHL game since 2009. Sabourin, 31, spent a whirlwind weekend: He was called up to serve as Holtby’s backup for the Capitals’ regular season finale on Saturday, then returned to the minors so he could play for Hershey on Sunday.
At least Sabourin has played in two NHL playoff games, although his last appearance — in 2007 — was for a mere 3 1/2 minutes with Vancouver when Roberto Luongo took a bathroom break during a game in Anaheim.
The Capitals have resorted to young goaltenders for the playoffs in recent seasons – but by choice. Semyon Varlamov took over after Jose Theodore was benched in 2008, and Neuvirth got the call ahead of Varlamov last season.
To Holtby’s credit, he isn’t short on self-confidence and perspective. He dismissed any suggestion that he might want to soak it in and take an extra deep breath before stepping on the ice at his playoff debut.
“If I do,” he said, “then we won’t make it that far.”