Heading into Game Five, we had heard plenty of “Murray! Murray!” chants from the home crowd in Pittsburgh. Penguins rookie netminder Matt Murray, 21, has stolen the show, stopping 81 of 85 shots in his last two games. He has relegated franchise netminder Marc-Andre Flurey, currently signed to a four-year, $23 million contract, to backup duty. Murray’s numbers are brilliant, with a 6-2 record, 2.00 goals-against average, and a .930 save percentage in the postseason.
But on Saturday night, it was Braden Holtby’s time to reclaim the spotlight. Holtby, a near lock to win the Vezina Trophy for goalie of the year, stopped 30 of 31 Pittsburgh shots in the elimination game. His heroics kept Washington’s season alive. Now the series shifts to Pittsburgh with the Capitals down 3-2. Without Holtby, Washington may have been packing up their sticks at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday.
“That’s why he’s the best goalie in the league,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said of Holtby. “We knew he’s out there and he’s going to make a save and he’s going to keep us in the game. It’s kind of a situation when we need him and he need us. We believe in each other and we trust each other.”
Earlier on Saturday, Holtby was named a finalist for this year’s Ted Lindsey award, given to the “most outstanding player” as voted on by members of the NHL Players’ Association.
So far this series, Holtby has looked rocky at times. With a 1.84 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in 44 postseason games, Holtby is one of the best playoff performers in league history. Against the Penguins, however, he has looked mortal, which often signals doom for Washington in the playoffs. Over the first four games of the series, Holtby allowed three goals three times, though he escaped with a victory in Game One after TJ Oshie’s hat trick heroics.
“Sometimes it feels like the game is against you,” Holtby said. “I wanted to make a difference for our team, show that I would rebound just like all of us. Some nights you can make those saves.’’
Holtby standout sequence came late in the second period when he made two stunning stops on Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz.
“They were massive,” Karl Alzner said of the saves. “We addressed that after the game. We don’t want to give them chances like that. We rely on our goalie to make some saves and he did exactly what we needed there.”
Holtby is now a postseason veteran, but he was first called upon by the Caps as 22-year-old back in 2012 after injuries to the team’s top netminders. Holtby won his first round series against Boston Bruins in seven games, before being bested by Henrik Lundqvist in another seven game showdown in the second round. Holtby finished that postseason with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. There are parallels to the way Murray is playing this postseason.
“I think everyone’s just realizing that now,” Holtby said of Murray’s skills in the crease. “He’s going to be around a long time.”
But four years later, Holtby got the last laugh — at least on this night. Washington will still be one loss away from an early playoff exit when they face off against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday for Game 6, but they will have Holtby in their corner. Just don’t tell Braden he’s any good.
“I think that he would prefer if nobody said anything and just let him do his thing and play the game,” Alzner said. “Holts doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need anyone to talk about him. He probably doesn’t even care if he were to win that Vezina. He’s just happy to do his job. He just wants us to win this prize, the Cup. He doesn’t care about that. Obviously he deserves all the accolades in the world right now.”
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