Thomas, Holtby at top of their games


BOSTON -- The fact that Tim Thomas has allowed just two goals in seven-plus periods through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is no surprise.

The Bruins expect from their goaltender, mainly because they saw him at his best last postseason.

But for the Washington Capitals, nobody had ever seen Braden Holtby perform in the playoffs. So far though, he's battled Thomas every step up of the way, as he made 43 saves and led his Capitals to a 2-1 double overtime win in Game 2 at the TD Garden on Saturday.

He's a battler," said Capitals coach Dale Hunter after Washington evened the series up at 1-1. "He has confidence. He is going out there battling, just like the rest of the team. That is a good thing."

For the Capitals, it's a great thing. Because in reality, he's their third option between the pipes. Once Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth went down with injuries late in the season, the 22-year-old Holtby got the call.

It never seemed realistic that Holtby could walk into a first-round playoff series with the defending Stanley Cup champs and win a battle with one of the best goaltenders in the league in Tim Thomas. But on Saturday, he did just that.

Even in Game 1, Holtby made 29 saves, and pitched a shutout through regulation, until Chris Kelly blasted a slap shot past him in the opening minutes of overtime. It was a loss on the score sheet, but if Holtby plays like that for the rest of the series, the Capitals will take it.

"I dont want to say anything but he is playing great right now," said Washington captain Alex Ovechkin after Saturday's win. "Again we just hope he can continue to play how he is playing. In our mentality this is very important for us. This kid can save us and keep us in the game in overtime."

"Hes so calm back there," said Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom. "Its very impressive to see.Hes twenty one, or twenty two maybe.Its very impressive to see him out there, brings a calmness and a great confidence too.If he keeps playing like this, we are going to help him and take care of our chances when we get them."

The Capitals more than doubled their shot total in Game 2, after only putting 17 shots on net through three-plus periods in Game 1. They finished with 39 shots on Thomas on Saturday, and scored twice.

Troy Brouwer have Washington a 1-0 lead with 2:03 left in the second period, after he knocked home a loose puck from the left post, after Thomas appeared to try and cover it up with his glove. Before Thomas could get the glove on the ice, Brouwer tipped it through his five-hole.

"Pucks like that, normally you put the paddle of your stick behind it and cover it," said Thomas after the game. "But then I realized I couldnt without jamming Greg Zanon in the face. And then the other thing was, you dont like to cover it with the stick underneath, because you cant trap it all the way. So I waited just a half-a-second for his hand to clear. I didnt even know that Troy Brouwer was over there. I didnt even see the stick. I never saw that live, out of any of my vision. I never saw the stick come in and hit it."

Backstrom's game-winner in double overtime came on a wrist shot from the left circle, after the Bruins turned it over deep in their own corner, following a face-off win.

Thomas said he never got a good look at it.

"I just had time to yell screen and then I think I picked it up about halfway to me, but it was one of those knuckle shots," said Thomas. "You cant get a read on exactly where its going. It is what it was."

And as good as Holtby's been, it hasn't been a bad series for Thomas. He did make 37 saves on Saturday, to go along with a shutout win in Game 1.

Thomas has been solid. But nobody's talking about it because that's expected.

Holtby, on the other hand, was the question mark coming into the playoffs. But through two games, he's at least establishing himself as a goaltender that's more than capable of stealing a first-round series.

"If we keep winning while Im playing thats what well do," said Holtby, when asked if he'd be Washington's goaltender from here on out.. "Whatever we decide as long as were winning Im comfortable with whatever decision.Right now were winning and were playing for the team to succeed."

The Bruins, on the other hand, believe that Holtby hasn't been tested quite like they're capable of testing opposing goaltenders.

"Hes done a good job, but that being said its about us making his job harder and tougher and screening him more and finding the puck for the rebounds and the ugly goals," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron.

"It's about getting there and getting into the dirty areas or getting in front of the net, screening him and making his job harder than it is right now. He's making some good saves, but still, I think we can be better and make it harder for him."

"What they cant see, they cant stop, and our game plan would be the same against any other team, and right now, like I said, its just not happening enough, and hes seeing a lot of pucks," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "Im certainly not discrediting him because hes played well. Hes made some big saves when he had to, but we certainly havent made his life as miserable as much as we can when were at the top of our game."

Thomas and Holtby have allowed two goals each in seven-plus periods. It's fair to say that both are on the top of their game.

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