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Bruins Can’t Solve Holtby; Series Heads to Boston Tied

Braden Holtby saved 44 of 45 shots in Thursday's Game 4 of the Bruins-Capitals playoff series, played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

For the Boston Bruins to beat the Washington Capitals, at some point they’ll need to beat Braden Holtby. The rookie goalie has averaged more than 35 saves per night in his first four playoff games, including a dominating 44-save night Thursday that powered the Capitals to a 2-1 victory at the Verizon Center, evening the series at 2-2.

And with every stick-side deflection, glove-side save or body-block, Holtby’s confidence just climbs higher.

A confident Holtby means trouble for the Bruins, no matter how many more shots they take.

Holtby Shuts Out Off-Target Bruins in Second and Third

The Bruins out-shot the Capitals in every period Thursday, posting double-digit advantages in the first and third. The Bruins fired from the crease, the circles and the blue line. They tried redirects, wrap-arounds and rebounds. But no matter what they tried, Holtby and the Capitals defense blanked the Bruins over the final two periods.

Tyler Seguin nearly scored four minutes into the second on a 2-on-1, but Holtby skated out of the goal and stonewalled him. Brad Marchand had a similar 3-on-2 opportunity soon after, but again the Bruins came up empty. And Seguin corralled a deflection later in the second but again couldn’t settle the puck for a shot.

Boston’s lack of clean passes hurt the team more and more as the game went on. Pucks started bouncing instead of gliding, hitting their targets’ skates or sailing too far away from their sticks. Such errors really hurt the Bruins midway through the third, when a holding call against right winger Mike Knuble gave the Bruins their first power play.

The Bruins couldn’t get one puck on goal during those two minutes, looking completely out of sorts. Four games into the series, the Bruins still haven’t scored a power play goal.

Bad passing again cost the Bruins in the final minutes of the game. Tim Thomas (two goals on 19 saves) exited with about two minutes left, but the Bruins never set up a quality scoring chance with the man-advantage. Their first shot came with only 30 seconds remaining, and no shot got all the way through to Holtby.

Crisper passing might have translated into a few more scoring chances. And in hockey, every moment the puck stays in the offensive zone tires the defense and increases the chance to score a bit more.

Semin Second-Period Power Play Goal Breaks Tie

The Capitals went on the power play three times to the Bruins’ one Monday. The Bruins easily killed off the first penalty, then forced Thomas to make five saves in the second. The Bruins killed that second penalty as well, but the sudden offensive production re-energized the Capitals, who’d managed just eight shots on goal in the first 30 minutes of play.

The Bruins went back on the attack following the second penalty kill, trying to establish a presence in the crease to screen Holtby and set up for a possible second-chance shot. Such a chance arose when Zdeno Chara fired from 55 feet away, but in the ensuing scrum in front of the net Capitals center Brooks Laich‘s stick came out of his hands. Patrice Bergeron may have knocked it loose while fighting for the puck, and the officials sent him off for hooking at 17:53 in the second.

The Bruins couldn’t turn back the Capitals a third time, as Keith Aucoin and Alex Ovechkin worked the puck around the perimeter to Alexander Semin in the left circle. Semin ripped a snapshot past Thomas, pegging the top-right corner of the goal for a 2-1 lead and the eventual game-winner at 18:43.

Capitals Score First, Bruins Answer

Washington took an early 1-0 lead when Andrew Ference fell down in the neutral zone, setting up a 2-on-1 with Laich and Marcus Johansson. Laich brought the puck straight towards Thomas before passing to Johansson just outside the crease. Johansson easily scored for a 1-0 Capitals lead just 1:22 into the game.

Matching Ference’s tumble, Ovechkin fell down in the Bruins’ zone with just under seven minutes left in the first. Gregory Campbell grabbed the loose puck and fed it to Rich Peverley in the neutral zone, setting up a 2-0n-1 with Daniel Paille.

As Peverley brought the puck to the right offensive circle, John Erskine dove to the ice to try and block the shot. Peverley held the puck an extra second, then fired through Holtby’s pads to tie the game 1-1 at 13:12.

Hopefully, whatever Peverley learned about Holtby on that play gets shared with the rest of the team before Saturday’s Game 5 at the TD Garden.

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