Braden Holtby to face Rangers for first time since 2012 playoffs

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

When Braden Holtby and the Capitals last visited the world’s most famous arena they played the last game of their 2011-12 season.

After an extremely tight Eastern Conference semifinal, the Rangers eliminated Washington with a 2-1 victory in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on May 12 ending what had been an improbable postseason run under then-Coach Dale Hunter. As the Capitals aim for their fourth-consecutive win on Sunday evening, they’re hoping to make some new memories.

“The last memory has to be losing there,” said Holtby, who will make a fourth consecutive start for the Capitals tonight. “So it’s a little bit of revenge for us. We’re going to want to put in a very good performance there.”

Holtby’s not one to dwell on the past, but it’s tough not to remember how the young goaltender took the NHL by storm last spring becoming one of the postseason’s standout stars.

He went 7-7 with a .935 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average through two rounds and against the Rangers, Holtby was 3-4 with a .929 save percentage and 1.90 GAA.

“Obviously that was, for Holts, his coming out party,” said Coach Adam Oates, who pre-scouted the Capitals series against the Rangers when he was an assistant for the Devils last season. “Against Boston and the Rangers he played really, really good hockey for the team and gave them some confidence. I think the team played better because of that. It was a great series, could have gone either way.”

Holtby’s statistics through eight starts this season hardly compare to those of his playoff performance, but he’s turned in sturdy outings recently making timely stops when the Capitals need them most. He’s backstopped Washington to each victory on its three-game winning streak, stopping 81 of the 89 shots he’s faced (.910 save percentage) in that span but Holtby knows he can be better.

At this stage, he wants to make sure that he does everything he can to ensure the 5-8-1 Capitals keep moving forward. He sees the progress the team is making as a group but knows Washington can’t afford to suffer another setback – they have to keep the momentum of this winning streak going.

“We have to. We don’t have a choice,” Holtby said. “That’s what happens when you dig yourself a hole, we don’t have a choice. Our backs are against the wall all season now. It’s not going to change and…I think that’s going to be a good thing because we’re going to play desperate hockey for the whole season now.”

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