Holtby outduels Thomas

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby makes a save on Bruins forward Tyler Seguin during Game 4 of...

Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby makes a save on Bruins forward Tyler Seguin during Game 4 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., April 19, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:14 AM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Braden Holtby turned on his television Wednesday night and soon thought he was in the middle of a bad dream.

Or, in this case, a goalie’s worst nightmare.

The horror show taking place on the screen in front of him wasn’t authored by Stephen King or Vincent Price. It didn’t feature Jason or any other axe-swinging psycho. It wasn’t on the Scream Channel.

No, what Holtby was watching was Game 4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Fyers first-round series.

And after seeing those teams combine for 13 goals on 61 shots, well, such porous goaltending was enough to send shivers down the spine of anyone who has ever strapped on a pair of pads in their lives, let alone a rookie who was preparing to face the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

“That’s not what you want,” Holtby said. “(Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov) are world class goalies too. That’s not good to see.

“But I think they’ll bounce back.”

Good thing Holtby didn’t adopt any of those bad goaltending habits he had seen in that 10-3 Penguins victory. Or, for that matter, any other games in that series.

Indeed, Holtby and his own playoff counterpart, Tim Thomas, turned in goaltending performances Thursday that were the polar opposites from what we’ve seen from the Pens and Flyers this spring.

Had this been a Penguins-Flyers game, complete with the pungent goaltending that has dominated that series, the final score would have been something like 14-12.

Instead, Holtby, the rookie from Lloydminster, Sask., outshone the defending Conn Smythe winner Thomas, producing one of the best games by a goalie in Washington Capitals post-season history.

By the time the barrage of rubber had finished, Holtby had stopped 44 Boston Bruins shots en route to an emotional 2-1 victory on at the Verizon Center.

The victory allowed the Caps to even this best-of-seven first-round series at 2-2. Game 5 will go Saturday afternoon at TD Garden in Boston.

At least six different times during the course of the evening, the red-clad capacity crowd rose to its feet and began chanting Holtby’s name. Not bad for a 22-year-old kid making just his fourth playoff start.

“It’s awesome,” Holtby said of the cheers. “That can get your heart racing pretty quick.

“(But) my job is to control my emotions and concentrate on what is going on.”

He’s definitely doing that.

Consider these numbers.

Pittsburgh's Fleury, who has a cap hit of $5 million, has allowed 20 goals in four playoff games this spring.

Philly's Bryzgalov, who was inked to a nine-year, $51 million pact last summer, has allowed 17 goals in four playoff games this spring.

Holtby, who earns $677,777, has allowed seven goals in four playoff games this spring.

It’s still early but ...

As for Thomas, he’s been beaten just seven times in this series as well and had no chance on the Caps goals, scored by Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin.

Rich Peverley scored the only Boston goal, that coming late in the first period.

The Capitals were playing without Nicklas Backstrom, who received an automatic one-game suspension for receiving a match penalty in Game 3 after cross checking Peverley in the face after the final horn.

When the league refused to rescind the one-game banishment (which, let’s face it, was never going to happen given the recent outrage over the perceived lack of harsh suspensions), the outcry from the Capitals organization came from all sources.

The coup de grace in the war of words came courtesy of Caps owner Ted Leonsis, who wrote the following in his blog, Ted’s Take:

“We can’t let the officials play a role in our game planning — we need to remain disciplined and remember that the defending Stanley Cup champs will always get the benefit of the doubt; we need to rise above the noise and focus on signal; play tight defense — capitalize on Boston’s mistakes — score when we get a power play; continue to rely on strong play in net. Don’t retaliate to plays after the whistle.”

We disagree that the Bruins get the “benefit of a doubt” from the league.

At the same time, there is no doubt that Holtby has been the star of this series.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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