It's a Zen-like ritual for Braden Holtby. And it seems to be working.
For a few minutes before each game, the 25-year-old goalie comes out to the bench, rests his chin on the paddle of his stick, contemplates the empty ice, then returns to his locker to get dressed.
On Monday night, two years to the day after he earned his first NHL playoff shutout by making 24 saves in a 1-0 overtime victory over the Rangers, the 6-2 Holtby posted another one. He again blanked the Rangers, 1-0, this time with 30 saves to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Holtby, who won 41 games this season and recorded nine shutouts, has posted a 1.54 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage against the Rangers and Islanders in the playoffs. Fans may recall that soft, between-the-legs goal against the Islanders in the third period of Game 7, but since then, he has allowed four goals in three games against the Rangers.
"I could sit here all day and tell you things about Holtby," forward Troy Brouwer said. "How good he's been for us. Tonight was no different. He made the saves we needed him to make. We hung him out to dry a few times and he was able to come up with a timely stop. He always seems to be in the right spot when we need him."
Capitals coach Barry Trotz called Holtby, who played in 73 games this season and ranked first in the NHL in ice time, "a workhorse. He prepares and he's focused. We ask our players from day one to come prepared and get better every day, and he's done that."
Said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi: "He's seeing a bunch of pucks, and when the rebound gets out, he's finding it really well. We just have to keep throwing pucks on net, getting bodies there and do our best to make sure that he can't see those shots and make sure we get some of those rebounds on net."