“I don’t have to [talk to him],” Coach Dale Hunter said afterward. “He’s a resilient kid. He battles. He’ll battle again.”
Of all the intermissions in Holtby’s career, the minutes between the end of regulation and overtime had to be the longest and most excruciating. Six seconds from being one win away from Washington’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals in 14 years and it all disappeared — in a blink.
It began with a loose puck, in a game the Capitals had suddenly seized control of after being outshot and outgunned for much of the first two periods.
“They got two or three whacks at it into my pad,” Holtby said of the goal at the end of regulation. “. . . I just tried to cover it quick and [Brad Richards] got a stick in there before I could get it. One I’d probably like to battle harder with, but that’s ifs and whatnot. It is what it is and we’ll move on.
That’s all that would separate him from having an opportunity to be the winning goalie in a closeout game at Verizon Center on Wednesday night against the top-seeded team in the East.
Now, two unlikely Rangers goals in the final 1 minute 42 seconds — including an overtime winner he barely saw — makes a rookie the last line of defense for the season.
Rangers 3, Caps 2 — in Game 5 and the series, which winds toward Washington for another wild one.
Just when their legions start to feel safe believing again, they pull you right back down that drain of despair and hopelessness, no?
Which, of course, means it’s going seven.
And in some ways, they were lucky to be tied that late. The end was portended early on in Game 5.
All the telltale signs of an ugly road loss surfaced in that first period. The Rangers had 17 shots on goal to the Capitals’ four. Holtby wasn’t the last line of defense; he was the only line of defense, the one who battened hatch during the nastiest storm of Washington’s postseason.
For all the times over the past month the Caps’ offensive stars dove headfirst to block a puck and all the grinders stood sentry in front of their rookie goalie, they took off the first 20 minutes Monday night at a howling Garden.
But the cocksure youngster in net kept them in it. Weathered the worst, shots from every imaginable angle, inches from the net.
And he almost survived.
Instead of being one game away from a mesmerizing trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1998, he now plays for the season.
Does Ovechkin score twice or does he even shoot on Wednesday? Is Ward lifted on his teammates shoulders or left sulking in the locker room?
Does the kid in net hold up for one more scintillating night? Or is it the end of this unexpected run?
What? You expected 5-1? Uh-uh.
Frankly, it should shock everyone who follows this team if they didn’t take the Rangers to Game 7. It’s what they do; it’s who they are. Quit fretting and enjoy the ride.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise