BOSTON The question was a simple one but the answer spoke volumes.
As he prepared for the biggest game of his life tonights Game 7 against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (Comcast SportsNet) Capitals rookie netminder Braden Holtby was asked if playing in the seventh game of a Stanley Cup playoff series was something he dreamed about as a child.
Yeah, I mean, you think about Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals more than anything, Holtby said. You have to win certain games in order to get to the Stanley Cup, and this is gonna be one of them.
In other words, as big as tonights game is for the 22-year-old goaltender from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, he fully expects to play in one that is much bigger five or six weeks from now.
And that may be the most surprisingly refreshing thing about Holtby. For a kid who has played in just xxx games in his NHL career and became the Capitals No. 1 goalie two weeks ago by double injury default, he uses the words Stanley Cup more than anyone else in the Capitals locker room.
Hes kind of his own cat, said Capitals senior statesman Mike Knuble, who was finishing up his senior year in high school when Holtby came into the world. Hes quiet, but hes not peculiar. Ive seen goalies who were so peculiar they were their own worst enemies and some so wild they were their own worst enemies.
Hes pretty mature. Theres a lot of pressure that goes along with getting thrown into a playoff series. Some guys cower and wilt and some guys get stronger. Hes gotten stronger.
Capitals center Brooks Laich says he likes the edgy cockiness Holtby exhibits in his crease, whether its protecting his domain with a blocker to the face or being a bit flamboyant with his glove saves.
One thing I like is hell grab a shot out of the air, flip it in his glove and give it to the linesman, Laich said. He makes it look so easy that you say, Geez, this kids got it. Hes having fun.
Holtby admits he has not always been as mentally strong as hed like and that he struggled with his confidence early in his career with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, a team that struggled in his first two seasons as a starter before emerging in his final year there in 2008-09.
I was too young and nave to realize wins and losses, said Holtby, who went 42-58-3 in his first two seasons in Saskatoon. I wanted to win every game and I put a lot of pressure on myself when we werent winning. But now, looking back, we didnt really have a team that was going to win too many games no matter what.
Holtby and the Blades had a breakthrough season three years ago. He went 40-16-4 during the regular season before getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs in seven games. It is the only Game 7 Holtby has been a part of and he is still looking for the first playoff series victory of his career.
I think I was a lot more critical of myself when I was younger, he said. It would affect me a lot more if I did something wrong. I would blame myself in ways that would probably bring me down. But its a credit to the goalie coaching Ive had over the years. Theyve taught me what to look for if I have done something wrong, and not to be critical all the time. People do make mistakes.
I think its a constant challenge to keep your mind not thinking about the negatives, Holtby said. Thats human nature to think more about the negative things in life than the positives, and thats one of those things where, whenever something negative creeps in, you just have to replace it with some positive thought, and that usually pushes you forward and makes you want to be more successful.
Following the Capitals 4-3 overtime loss in Game 6 Holtby blamed himself for overchallenging the Bruins shooters on two occasions in overtime. He came out of his net on Zdeno Chara, who outwaited him but failed to get a shot on net, and came out against Tyler Seguin, who opened the blade of his stick as if to shoot, then went to his backhand for the game-winner.
The next morning, after reviewing tapes of his performance, he was far less critical.
I do want to play the percentages, Holtby said, and I think after Ive looked at the plays, I think I took away what my job is, and thats the first few split seconds when a guy has a chance to shoot. I think I could have scrambled a bit better, but I was happy with the way I took away their shot.
Holtby said he consults with Capitals goaltending coach Dave Prior before, during and after games, even seeking his input between periods. He also talks daily with his father, Greg, a former goaltender who also played for the Saskatoon Blades.
My dad is always there for encouragement, Holtby said. He knows me better than anyone and hes positive every time we talk.
Holtby is hoping the conversation he has with his dad late tonight has a celebratory tone, not consolation.
Laich says he expects nothing different from Holtby than hes already shown in the first six games of the series, despite all the attention hes been given as the Capitals next great netminder.
I expect him to be excellent, Laich said. I dont think Holts cares about the spotlight. I dont think hes tuning into every channel trying to see his name called. The kid just wants to play and win hockey games. Hes playing great and hes getting the recognition and we hope it continues.
As for his nerves entering tonights game, Holtby says he feels there is more pressure on the second-seeded Bruins than the seventh-seeded Capitals.
Theres no point in having nerves right now, he said. This is fun. This is what we were hoping for. Were still the underdogs here. I dont think anyone really expected us to be here, even in a Game 7, and you know, we like this pressure. Were here to show that were not gonna back down. Myself, Im just gonna go in, try to make the stops that Im capable of stopping and hopefully its enough to win.