Holtby holds his own against Lundqvist

Goalie Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals congratulates Goalie Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals congratulates Brad Richards of the New York Rangers after they Rangers won 2-1 in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. (May 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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The game was billed as a defining moment in the career of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who at last reached the conference finals after all these years.

But for his counterpart, Saturday night was another chapter in a serendipitous ride that put him on the brink of his own career milestone -- one that came more quickly than anyone could have predicted.

In the end, Braden Holtby fell short in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, losing, 2-1. But he played well enough to validate all that had come before for a guy who played fewer games for the Washington Capitals this season than he did for the Hershey Bears of the AHL.

"Holtby, that guy played his heart out from Game 1 until this game,'' said defenseman John Carlson, a fellow 22-year-old.

That came as little consolation to Holtby, who said he took little from playing well but losing in another close, low-scoring game. "A loss is a loss,'' he said. "It's just as bad when we get blown out. It hurts the same.''

Holtby's night got off to a rocky start a mere 1:32 in when Brad Richards ripped a slap shot past him from the faceoff circle. Holtby said a screen in front of the goal prevented him from seeing the puck, which beat him low to his glove side.

Holtby mostly was sharp, though, especially in the second period, during which he made several impressive saves, notably on a tip-in attempt by Ryan Callahan. Finally, the Rangers beat him a second time when Michael Del Zotto scored on a quick shot from the slot midway through the third to give the Rangers a brief 2-0 lead.

"There were some mistakes I made but I got lucky on them,'' he said. "But they scored two very good goals.''

Surely the past few weeks have been mostly a blur for Holtby, who added another layer to his story Thursday when his fiancee, Brandi Bodnar, gave birth to their baby boy, Benjamin Hunter Holtby.

After allowing a shocking last-minute goal by Richards that tied Game 5, which the Rangers then won in overtime, Holtby bounced back by leading the Caps to a 2-1 victory in Game 6, during which fans in Washington chanted his name.

The scene would have been difficult to imagine when Holtby took over late in the regular season after injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth.

The morning of Game 7, he insisted to reporters that he would treat the series finale as just another game, just like the deciding game he won on the road over the defending champion Bruins in the first round.

He said he would not be distracted by the arrival of the baby. He stopped 29 of the Rangers' shots, but that wasn't quite enough. "They block shots, they sacrifice and Lundqvist was absolutely amazing all series," Holtby said. "We got beat by a very good team, and that happens.''

The Rangers knew they had beaten a very good goalie. What did Lundqvist tell Holtby on the handshake line? Said Lundqvist: "I told him I bet I'll see him a lot next year.''

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