Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist Get Reacquainted

USA TODAY Sports

Two goalies with a penchant for stellar postseason play find themselves in another showdown.

"Everything else that comes with the playoffs really doesn't matter. It doesn't make a difference at all. It's knowing what I'm capable of doing on the ice and making sure I do it." - Braden Holtby, before the start of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times.

It should go without saying that the body of work boasted by Henrik Lundqvist - 511 games over 8 NHL seasons- is hardly a perfect comparison to Braden Holtby's 57 games through 3 partial NHL seasons. It's a marvel that Lundqvist has sustained his stellar play in net for nearly the span of a decade, and one that Caps fans can only hope for their young franchise backstop to replicate.

That said, and sample size discrepancy acknowledged, Braden Holtby's early career measurables are strikingly similar to those put up by his counterpart in New York. Let's take a look:

Games Played

Wins

Winning %

Save %

Goals Against Average

Shutouts

Shutout Rate

Holtby

57

37

.649

.923

2.39

7

1 per 8.14 games

Lundqvist

511

276

.540

.920

2.25

45

1 per 11.35 games

"But Braden Holtby's best performances have come in the playoffs," you might say. That's true. So have Henrik Lundqvist's. Again, let's dive in to the numbers as they lay before last night's Game 1 tilt:

Games Played

Wins

Winning %

Save %

Goals Against Average

Holtby

14

7

.500

.935

1.95

Lundqvist

55

25

.454

.931

1.82

If you didn't know it already, those numbers should illuminate at least one truth about the playoffs (and especially when either the Caps or the Rangers take the ice): goals are at a premium. Lundqvist's save percentage and GAA over 55 games played would make him a shoo-in for the Vezina pretty much always if they were achieved in the regular season, yet these robust numbers have earned him only a 25-30 career postseason record.

Back to regular-season play, measure Holtby and Lundqvist without the fickle integers of special teams play in the equation, and Lundqvist (.932, 1st) and Holtby (.929, 6th) both land in the top 10 in even strength save percentage amongst active goalies who have spent more than 300 minutes in net since 2010, the year Holtby came into the league.

So it's only fitting that these two should man opposite goals in consecutive years, right? Last year, of course, it was Lundqvist's Rangers downing Holtby's Caps, with the more-seasoned netminder limiting Washington to just 13 goals over seven games. Last night, it was Holtby who was the better performer (and, more importantly, the victor), his 35 saves on 36 shots ticking his playoff save percentage up to .937 and knocking his GAA down to 1.89.

After the game I asked Braden if going up against a guy like Henrik Lundqvist meant anything to him. "No," he said. "Obviously I respect him a lot. He's a great goalie. But we're here to win a series as a team, and no individual is going to do that."

Adam Oates shared a similar sentiment when he took the podium minutes later. "I thought Holts played a great game," he told me, now speaking through a snazzy NHL Network microphone instead of the standard stock of the regular season. "But I don't compare him to the other goalie. [Lundqvist] is a great goalie. We know that. It's one of the things we talk about as a group. But we're happy with our goalies."

It's a challenge for a young guy like Holtby to look down the ice and see Lundqvist -Troy Brouwer


The men who play in front of Holtby - Troy Brouwer and Karl Alzner, specifically - were more earnest and open in their lauding. "It's a challenge for a young guy like Holtby to look down the ice and see Lundqvist," Brouwer told me, eyes leaving mine and finding Holtby a few feet away, who was still fielding questions with the same easy poise he uses in his butterfly between the pipes. "Holts has a lot of confidence. He prepares mentally as much as anyone I've ever seen play the game."

High praise coming from a guy who's quaffed champagne from the Stanley Cup.

Karl Alzner sure would like to be able to say the same, but he knows that won't happen unless Holtby remains the stalwart he's been. "I think everyone knows you need a great goaltending performance to win a Cup," Alzner told me, doing the same thing as Brouwer, looking over at a busy Holtby across the room. "He makes all the easy saves and he makes all the hard saves. It's impressive to see what he does in net, and it's even more impressive to see how young he is."

I think everyone knows you need a great goaltending performance to win a Cup. -Karl Alzner

As Katie Carrera noted yesterday, Braden Holtby is the first Capitals goaltender to lose an elimination playoff game one season, and then start the first playoff game of the next season since Olaf Kolzig did it in 2000 and 2001. With numbers like the above, and games like last night, it's easy enough to see why.

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