The Caps are facing their most critical game of the season tonight, as they trail the Boston Bruins 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Nicklas Backstrom is serving a one-game suspension for his match penalty at the end of Game 3, when he crosschecked Boston’s Rich Peverley in the head. The absence of Backstrom probably forces an even more conservative, defensive-oriented approach than Dale Hunter usually employs, and that’s why Braden Holtby’s performance tonight is so important. If the Caps are going to knot the series at 2-2, it will most likely come with an outstanding performance from 22-year old Braden Holtby.
Holtby was beaten four times in Game 3; if he plays the same way tonight, great chance the Caps head to Beantown in a nearly insurmountable 3-1 hole. We need to see the Braden Holtby of Games 1 and 2, when he saved 72 of 74 shots faced, and was being called “the best story so far of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs” by puck guru Barry Melrose. If I were Holtby, I would be sure not to watch any of the highlights from the Pens-Flyers series…Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov couldn’t stop a soccer ball at this point, allowing a combined 45 goals through 4 games.
As long as the Caps defensemen keep blocking shots, and keep the traffic in front of Holtby to a minimum, the Caps have a great chance to get the win tonight. I love Coach Hunter’s decision to send the lumbering Jeff Schultz to the bench tonight in favor of John Erskine; Schultz has been on the ice for 4 of the 6 Boston goals scored this series, and deserves to sit for his lackluster play.
But a lot of the pressure falls on Holtby to help deliver the win tonight. Hopefully, he’s as mentally tough as our buddy Craig Laughlin has told us on the broadcasts on Comcast Sportsnet this past week. Compartmentalize the Game 3 loss, focus on the task at hand, and be the hero for the Washington Capitals tonight. Holtby the Hero has a pretty nice ring to it, don’t you think?