Caps take out the champs

Capitals players celebrate after defeating the Bruins in overtime of Game 7 in their the NHL...

Capitals players celebrate after defeating the Bruins in overtime of Game 7 in their the NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., April 25, 2012. (BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:01 AM ET

BOSTON - It was Braden Holtby, the confident rookie from Lloydminster, Sask., who used his skill and swagger to put his name in the same sentence as Ken Dryden and Steve Penney as rookie goalies who have slayed the Big Bad Boston Bruins.

It was Joel Ward, the footsoldier forward from Scarborough, Ont., whose forte is checking, making him the unlikeliest of offensive heroes.

And it was Dale Hunter, the former Washington Capitals star who left his job as coach of the OHL's London Knights in November to replace the fired Bruce Boudreau and attempt to revive his former franchise.

Put them all together and you have the recipe for how the underdog Capitals upset the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Buoyed by Holtby’s outstanding goaltending and Ward’s greasy series-winning goal just 2:57 into overtime Wednesday night, the Capitals are going to the second round of the NHL playoffs after a heart-stopping 2-1 victory over the Bruins at TD Garden.

The Bruins, meanwhile, are going to the golf course, mired in the disappointment of what might have been.

“I was just trying to follow up in case there was a loose puck that squirted or a rebound,” Ward said of his goal, which came off a Mike Knuble rebound. “I just kind of saw it and then gave it one of the hardest whacks I’ve ever given a puck.

“When I saw it go over the line, my eyes went really wide. I mean, I couldn’t believe it. This is the stuff you dream about when you are a kid.

“It’s unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable” is the perfect description of Holtby, whose composure was that of an established veteran, not a green 22-year-old.

Last spring, Holtby was sitting with his buddies watching Bruins goalie Tim Thomas lead Boston to a Stanley Cup. His friends quickly noted that Thomas’ acrobatic, stop-the-puck-any-way-you-can style remind them of Holtby.

Almost 11 months later, there was Holtby on the TD Garden ice, outduelling Thomas en route to propelling the Capitals to the second round.

The series marked the first time in NHL history that all seven games were decided by just one goal. That’s how close it was. That’s how excruciating it was for the Bruins to lose.

Four games went to overtime. Two more were settled in the final two minutes of regulation.

Holtby’s feat reminded locals of the nightmare Dryden gave the city when he helped the Montreal Canadiens eliminate the defending champion Bruins in the 1971 playoffs. Thirteen years later, Penney, another rookie Habs goalie, repeated the feat by helping the Habs turn back the favoured Bruins.

When asked about Dryden, Holtby was as modest off the ice as he was confident on it.

“With Ken Dryden, I don’t feel anyone should be compared to him. Ever,” Holtby said. “That’s a guy I would be nervous to meet him. That’s one of the legends of the game, one of the reasons that everyone plays.”

Holtby stopped 31 Bruins shots for the victory, refusing to be knocked off his game by the pressure of being on the big stage.

“If I got rattled, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Holtby said. “It’s one of the things I’ve learned to get to this level.

“I’ve had to work on it and get better at it. Obviously it paid off.”

Once again, there will be no repeat winner of hockey’s Holy Grail. In fact, no team has won back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

The elimination of the Bruins continues the remarkable trend of big-name teams that have been booted out of the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament. In the first round alone, the Bruins, Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins all have been sent packing.

“I’d have to say I’m probably in shock,” said Thomas, the defending Conn Smythe winner. “I really thought we were going to win tonight.

“I really had a deep feeling that this wasn’t the end of the road for us tonight, that this wasn’t going to be the last game of the season.”

But it was. And he can blame Braden Holtby, Joel Ward and Dale Hunter for that.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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