Three weeks ago, Braden Holtby was a talented young goalie stuck manning the pipes for the Hershey Bears in the AHL. A few weeks and a couple of injuries later, Holtby's young career in net is beginning to look much brighter.
The 22-year-old wasn't highly rated coming out of high school in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, which would explain his dropping all the way to the fourth round (93rd overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft. But Holtby has spent the past three-plus season working on his game, and the hard work has paid off for both the young netminder and the Washington Capitals.
After allowing just one goal in a 29-save performance in his first-ever NHL playoff game Thursday, Holtby entered Saturday's Game 2 matinee in Boston with a bubbling cauldron of confidence.
Many questioned his ability to bounce back after battling through a tough 60 minutes of hockey on Thursday, only to watch a freak goal by Bruins center Chris Kelly steal the win just 1:18 into overtime. The expectation was that Holtby would regress into the amateur many anticipated entering the series. But instead, the youngster far exceeded expectations.
Holtby came through with another impressive outing Saturday, knocking away 43 of Boston's 44 shots on the evening and helping catapult the Capitals to a 2-1 double-overtime victory and, more importantly, tied up the series 1-1 heading back to Washington.
The magnitude of the games don't appear to be affecting the young Holtby. He explained that he's just taking each game in stride and maintaining a level head throughout the whole experience.
"Mentally, I just wanted to keep calm and take it save by save and just take it from there," Holtby said of his gritty performance on Saturday. "Right now we're winning, and we're playing for the team to succeed."
The other Capitals players have noticed the cool-headed approach that Holtby brings each night, and even more importantly, they're beginning to believe in him.
"I don't want to say anything, but he is playing great right now," Capitals leading scorer Alex Ovechkin said after the win. "In our mentality [his play] is very important for us. This kid can save us and keep us in the game in overtime."
Ovechkin's confidence speaks volumes about the team's belief in its inexperienced goaltender. Washington's saving grace on Saturday, Nicklas Backstrom, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime, echoed Ovechkin's comments.
"He's so calm back there. It's very impressive to see," Backstrom said with a glance of amazement. "He's 21 or 22, maybe, so it's very impressive to see him out there. He brings a calmness and a great confidence, too."
The high praise of his teammates didn't affect the goaltenders demeanor, though, as Holtby remained focused on the bigger prize at hand — winning the series.
"Now we have home ice advantage," Holtby said with a grin about getting the victory. "We?re not going to get too high on this win. We're going to enjoy it for a bit and then get ready for Game 3."
It appears that Holtby, who was Washington's emergency plan just three weeks ago, may have instead emerged as more of a solution than a band-aid to the Capitals' goaltending woes.