NHL Playoffs 2012: Can Braden Holtby Still Carry the Washington Capitals?

Dan RobaczewskiContributor IIIMay 3, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02:  Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals reacts after a play against the New York Rangers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on May 2, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup playoffs comes along once a year, and every participating team carries a story. This year for the Washington Capitals, that story is Braden Holtby.

With the inconsistent duo of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth shelved with respective injuries, the pressure has been put on Holtby to stand on his proverbial head and shoulder a defensively lukewarm Capital hockey club that slithered its way into a seventh seed in this year's NHL playoffs. The 22-year-old Holtby has more than responded to the task—he has been phenomenal.

He went toe-to-toe with last year's Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, carefully and painfully dispatching his veteran competition in a thrilling Game 7 overtime duel. Faced with an arguably superior challenge in current Vezina favorite Henrik Lundqvist, Holtby now sees his team facing a 2-1 series deficit as a result of a heart-wrenching triple-overtime loss to the New York Rangers.

The question has been asked—appropriately so—can Holtby and the Capitals recover?

The Caps lost Game 1 when Chris Krieder and Brad Richards lacerated an otherwise evenly matched battle in the span of a minute-and-a-half. Game 2 saw Holtby surrender a two-goal lead before the Capitals' enthusiastic captain notched a power-play goal to earn Holtby at least one promised victory in this series.

Back at home at the Verizon Center and now engaged in a best-of-five series, Holtby and the Capitals played 115 blue-collar minutes, threw 46 shots at Henrik Lundqvist and mustered up just enough energy to make it to that dreaded sixth period in which Marian Gaborik went five-hole on a tired Holtby to break the stubborn deadlocks in both the game and the series.

So now what for Braden Holtby?

He is obviously the go-to guy for Dale Hunter and the Capitals, but the Stanley Cup playoffs can be a daunting animal. After losing a will-defying performance in a triple-overtime game, how much does Braden Holtby have left in the tank?

Goaltenders have made careers out of Stanley Cup playoff performances.

Just in the past decade, both Jean-Sebastian Giguere and Cam Ward have led their teams on unlikely playoff runs, and historical names like Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy also commenced their legacies as masked youngsters in the playoffs.

Is Holtby on par with the aforementioned superstars? History will dictate that.

But for a netminder who has seen a minute level of NHL experience and has yet to surrender more than four goals in a Stanley Cup playoff game, expect him to be resilient and competitive come Saturday afternoon in Washington.