WASHINGTON — The rigors of elite athletics require the right combination of a perfectly-tuned body and cloudless mind. No matter how prepared an athlete is, physically, his game can fall apart quickly without a good mindset.
That’s the position that Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby found himself in after Game 2 of Eastern Conference semifinals. He was pulled after allowing three goals on just 14 shots, replaced by Philipp Grubauer. He sat on the bench for the rest of the game, his body language dejected and his face partially obscured behind a baseball cap.
“The playoffs are made of big moments,” he told the media after the game. “That third goal – that’s a big moment. That’s where your goalie needs to come up with a save and I just didn’t. Obviously, I was frustrated that I didn’t do that.”
Despite pulling him, Coach Barry Trotz understood the fragility of the situation, standing by his goalie in the media.
“Yes, absolutely,” he replied, when asked if Holtby would start Game 3. “Why would you think otherwise?
“No question he’s our goaltender. I have a lot of confidence in him. He probably hasn’t had his series to this point, but I do know this, as I said, his body of work has been excellent, his mental toughness is excellent. I think he has the ability to park things. He’ll park it and he’ll be the difference in this series.”
Holtby’s next meaningful conversation was with his sports psychologist back in Edmonton, in a conversation that he called, “a good, long talk.”
“He broke things back down to the basics,” Holtby said after Game 3. “He basically said, ‘the puck doesn’t know it’s a big game, so just do what you do.'”
In Game 3, Holtby looked more like his regular season excellence, saving 28 of 30 shots, including 10 power play attempts. He will look to build on this performance heading into a Game 4 that will either bring the Caps back to even or leave them one game from elimination.