This really isn’t very tough to figure out if you were just a novice hockey fan. The Boston Bruins edge in goal could be the only reason they win this series. It was the reason they won two of them during their cup drive last season. Tim Thomas is amazing during the post season, enough said.
Thomas was stellar last year during the Bruins cup run. He followed up his second Vezina winning season in which he posted a 2.00 GAA and an equally impressive .938 save percentage (57-games) with 1.98 GAA and .940 save percentage (25-games) on his way to winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
He was 1-1-1 in 3 games vs. Washington this year stopping 82 of 89 shots. For his career, Thomas is 14-5-3 with a 2.46 goals against average. Thomas is easily the NHL's most unorthodox goaltender. He makes saves in unconventional ways that leaving you not believing he actually mad a particular save. There is little technical work involved in his game. The knock on him, though, is that teams can figure out a way to beat him when steadily facing his tendencies throughout a series. The Capitals must be able to put pressure directly in front of him. Thomas does not control rebounds well at times because of his unorthodox ways. At times, he can be found on the ice flopping to make a save, which causes him to be way out of position to possibly stop the second and third chances.
We are splitting hairs for sure here, but the Caps will not beat Thomas or the Bruins from the face-off circle.
Braden Holtby will become the third rookie in as many seasons to start a game in net for the Washington Capitals during the post season. In fact, Washington will be using their fourth different goalie to open the post season over the last five-post seasons. Holtby will be the fifth different Caps netminder to start between the pipes since Washington began their current playoff run back in 2008. Christobal Huet, Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov & Michael Neuvirth have all had a turn, as the 22-year-old Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native looks to lead his team where those before him could not. past the second round.
It will not be easy as Holtby begins his quest to become just the fifth rookie to win the Stanley Cup as a starter. A pair of Montreal Canadien greats were the first to accomplish the feat. Ken Dryden (1971) and Patrick Roy (1986) brought home hockey’s Holy Grail as well as the playoff MVP winning the Conn Smyth trophy. Dryden won the award the season before he was awarded the rookie of the year trophy (Calder Memorial trophy) as he was called up late during the 70-71 season and played in just six games. Head coach Al MacNeil liked what he saw and left the 23-year old in net for all 20-playoff games. Not to be outdone, Patrick Roy was just 20 when he accomplished the double in 1986 as he led the Habs past the Mike Vernon led Calgary Flames in five games.
Cam Ward also pulled the double (SC and MVP in playoffs) in 2006 as he helped the Carolina Hurricanes deliver the first major professional championship to the Carolinas. Ward began the season as the backup to Martin Gerber. He completed his NHL rookie season with 14 wins and 8 losses, along with a 3.68 goals against average. Gerber struggled to start the post season and Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette turned to Ward. Facing the Edmonton Oilers in the Finals, Ward helped the Hurricanes to the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Ward tied the rookie record for wins in the playoffs (15), previously held by Roy and Ron Hextall, and became the first rookie goalie to win the Conn Smyth Trophy since Hextall in 1987, which did so for a losing Philadelphia Flyers squad.
Two years ago, Annti Niemi replaced former Capital Christobal Huet in net for Chicago and help guide them to a Stanley Cup win over the Flyers.
Holtby enters the post season with far more experience than Dryden did, but not as much as Roy had. In 21 career NHL starts, Holtby is 14-4-3 with a solid 2.02 GAA and a .939 save percentage. He has won games for Washington in big venues like Detroit and Toronto, and he seems to thrive on the spotlight and pressure. He handles the puck as Ron Hextall did and like his counterpart, Tim Thomas, is unconventional at times.
The Capitals seem to play with more confidence when Holtby is in net. The Caps won’t even have Michael Neuvirth available for duty if needed as Neuvy is still recovering from lower body injury he sustained when ex-Cap (and current Florida Panther) Marco Sturm landed on him while he was in the butterfly position last week during the Caps 4-2 win at Verizon Center. Neuvirth took to the ice on Tuesday and even faced a few practice shots. But he won’t be ready for the Caps’ playoff opener and may not be available at all. Danny Sabourin, who backed up Holtby in Hershey this season, will now is doing so in Washington, for the playoffs. Anyone care where this might leave the Caps top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, as they head into the post season?
The biggest disappointment is the loss of Tomas Vokoun, who was brought to Washington for this very reason and has likely played his last game in a Caps uniform. Vokoun had some difficulties during the season, but he was just hitting his stride when injury and illness intervened. A flu bug struck in New York on Feb. 12, taking him out of a scheduled start against the Rangers. A groin injury surfaced shortly thereafter, and it flared up again in a March 29 game against the Boston Bruins.
It’s too bad for Vokoun and for the Caps. After he posted a 10-5-2 mark with three shutouts, a 2.05 GAA and a .935 save pct. over a stretch of 18 appearances (17 starts) in midseason, Vokoun started just eight of Washington’s final 28 games and finished just six of those eight starts. Had he not been injured, the Caps might have cruised to a fifth straight Southeast Division crown and he might be readying himself for his first playoff action since 2007 when he was a member of the Nashville Predators.
Instead, Vokoun is sidelined indefinitely. He skated on his own at practice on Tuesday, but there is no timetable for his return. Having come back prematurely the last time he suffered the injury, Vokoun will wait it out until he is certain he is 100 percent this time around.
This leaves a Tim Thomas vs. Braden Holtby showdown, and while I love the kid, I would look like a bumbling idiot to give the goaltending edge, column, check mark and whatever you want to place on the side of Thomas.
EDGE: Solidly with the Bruins, but do not sleep on the kid.