There was a defiant air within the cramped visitors locker room at Verizon Center late Thursday night as various Bruins spoke in hushed tones about the 22-year-old goalie that sent them back to Boston shaking their heads.
Just a few hundred feet away, inside the Capitals’ dressing room, netminder Braden Holtby was being hailed as a hero after a scintillating 44-save performance in a 2-1 victory.
Slumped in front of his stall, center David Krejci didn’t see it that way. He was still coming to grips with the notion that his Boston teammates fired 45 shots at Holtby on Thursday and came away with just one goal.
“You’ve got to give him credit, but I wouldn’t talk too much about him,” Krejci said of Holtby. “I think we just got to relax when we have the chance. Just do what you do during the season. When you have a chance, don’t panic and just bury it. Don’t think about other things. Just think about the scoring chance and just think about putting the puck into the net. Maybe we panicked too much, I guess.”
After a sold-out crowd of Capitals fans chanting “Holt-by, Holt-by” for the team’s new playoff dynamo between the pipes, Boston tried its best to hide whatever frustration his performances have created.
Instead the Bruins focused on the number of shots they got on net, and how little they had to show for it. At one point midway through the second period, Boston was out-shooting Washington 25-6 but its only tally came on a first-period goal by forward Rich Peverley.
“There were definitely a few that kind of rolled off the side and we weren’t there to bang them in,” Peverley said. “We’re gonna have to do that if we’re gonna win the series.”
Net presence was the key word thrown around by many of Boston’s leaders, including Coach Claude Julien, who said the Bruins’ lack of it was “the reason we didn’t win tonight.”
“When you shoot 45 shots on net and you only come out of there with a goal, obviously there’s a lot of loose pucks around the net that they cleared and we didn’t get to,” Julien said. “The net front presence has to be there, not just to create, but also finding those loose pucks and they’re finding them better than we are. So there’s probably not a good enough commitment in that area right now. And until we get that, we’re gonna be struggling to score goals.”
Take, for instance, a shot from forward Milan Lucic’s stick five minutes into Game 4 that bore little resemblance to the laser of a wrist shot by Alexander Semin that ultimately propelled the Capitals to this victory. But Lucic’s shot did have enough heat to create a juicy rebound in front of the crease when it hit off the pads of Holtby. The puck then remained nearly motionless on the ice for close to two seconds — an eternity in this hotly contested playoff battle.
A scrum ensued and Boston’s Shawn Thornton escaped with what looked to be a golden opportunity from point-blank range. But he never could control the puck cleanly and his shot glanced off Holtby and out of danger, an omen for what was to come.
It only made sense then that Holtby finished the game with the puck in his catching glove and the Bruins packed their bags wondering what had stymied an offense that featured six 20-goal scorers during the regular season.
“We had so many chances and you want to score so bad,” Krejci said before the Bruins headed back home for Game 5. “Maybe we got to relax a little bit and take a deep breath.”