After impressively backstopping the Capitals down the stretch, Washington is hoping rookie goaltender Braden Holtby can maintain his stellar run and lead the team deep into the playoffs.
With Michal Neuvirth and Thomas Vokoun both still on the injured list, the Caps will start their first-round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins with Braden as their No. 1 netminder.
Holtby made 35 saves as the Capitals concluded their regular season with 4-1 thrashing of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
That win enabled Washington (42-32-8) to finish with 92 points and take the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. It spoiled the Rangers' chance to clinch the President's Trophy.
It also moved Holtby to a 4-2-1 mark on the year.
Though he has appeared in only 21 NHL contests and played just 16 playoff games in his career between the American Hockey League and Western Hockey League, the 22-year-old Holtby is undaunted by the impeding challenge in the battle against the Bruins.
"I'm not really trying to focus on the playoffs, I'm focusing on making saves," Holtby said via the Washington Post. "The saves don't get any harder in the playoffs. I've watched them since I was a kid. They're the same type shots, same everything. Obviously it's more intense but it doesn't change your ability at all."
Holtby, a fourth-round pick by the Capitals in the 2008 draft, has had success against Boston earlier in his career. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 5, 2010 in a game over the Bruins at Verizon Center that resulted in a win
With that game tied 3-3, Neuvirth was pulled to pave the way for the first NHL appearance by Holtby, who stopped four Bruins shots and the Caps scored two goals to give Holtby a 4-3 win.
This season, Holtby played in only one of the Capitals' first 72 games, a 5-3 loss to San Jose on Feb. 13.
Holtby played in six of Washington's last 10 tilts, posting a 4-1-1 record, 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage over that span, aiding Washington to lock up a playoff berth.
Holtby, who is a career 14-4-3, 2.02 GAA and .929 save percentage, will be going up against defending Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who finished the regular season with 35 wins, the same number of triumphs he had in 2010-11.
Meanwhile, it is uncertain whether Neuvirth will be able to see action in the first-round playoff series against the Bruins as deals with a left leg injury.
Neuvirth, 24, who hurt his leg last week, returned to practice Tuesday for the first time. He did not stay for the entire practice session.
Vokoun, 35, also made a brief appearance on the ice Tuesday, but is still dealing with the first groin injury he sustained in his career.
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