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Thursday, April 12, 2012
Updated: April 14, 12:23 AM ET
B's-Caps shaping up as goalie duel

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas had a message for his teammates earlier this week.

When the Bruins learned that the Washington Capitals decided to start 22-year-old netminder Braden Holtby, Thomas said don't be fooled by the prospect's age and lack of experience. A young goalie, with nothing to lose, could be a dangerous foe.

Braden Holtby
Caps G Braden Holtby stopped every shot but this one, Chris Kelly's OT winner.

Turns out that Thomas was right with his prediction.

Fortunately for the Bruins, they were able to sneak one goal past Holtby, and it proved crucial. Boston's Chris Kelly scored at 1:18 of overtime for a 1-0 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Thursday night at TD Garden.

The goaltending performance by Holtby showed the Bruins that they can't take their opponent for granted in this series.

A season ago, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo said he didn't think Thomas was giving him enough respect, with the now-famous "pumping his tires" comment during the Stanley Cup finals.

This time around, the Bruins' netminder praised Holtby's play.

"I thought he played very well," Thomas said. "I didn't see a lot of holes. He worked very hard. I hope he expended a lot of energy and wore himself out a little bit because I hope he doesn't play that good every game. I thought he did a very good job."

Despite the loss Holtby finished with 29 saves and impressed everyone in the building.

"He played a hell of a game," said the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin. "Most of the time he kept us in the game and I think he was nervous, but after the first shot you could see he was calm and he was on a roll."

In the days leading up to Game 1, it seemed Washington's goaltending situation was front and center, leaving Thomas as almost an afterthought. Well, reigning Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner Thomas played well and earned his sixth career shutout. The last time he tossed a zero up on the board was Game 7 of the Cup finals June 15 in Vancouver when Boston finished off the Canucks, 4-0.

Thomas faced only 17 shots Thursday night, but he made timely saves at critical times and helped Boston to victory.

"As you know, when a goaltender doesn't get a ton of shots it becomes a challenge for him mentally to stay in the game, and physically you don't want to stiffen up, you want to stay warmed up," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Sometimes goaltenders thrive on the more shots they get, the more they're into the game. Tim did a great job of staying focused and staying sharp and when he had to make those big saves he made them.

"That was nice to see and that's Tim. With the experience he's had over the course of his career, those things are really starting to show and he did a great job. It wasn't an easy task for him tonight. The shutout, although it was only 17 shots, it was well deserved because he stayed focused the whole game."

Ovechkin had a point-blank opportunity during a power play early in the third period. The sniper was camped out at the bottom of the left faceoff circle when he received a pass from Nicklas Backstrom.

Thomas quickly shifted across the crease and made a game-saving toe save with his right skate to keep the stalemate intact. In fact, it was Ovechkin's only shot on goal the entire game.

Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas has already proven he can carry a team to the Stanley Cup title.

"He likes that spot, generally, over there," Thomas said. "He's been changing it up and going to different spots. I didn't even think about Ovechkin until the pass happened. I was focusing on the pass and when I did see the pass released in that direction, I very quickly realized where it was going and who it was going to, so I thought I better get over there very fast and fortunately I got it with my toe."

It was a huge save, especially given the way the Capitals gained momentum in the third period.

But the Bruins held on and forced overtime before Kelly pumped in the game-winning goal, which couldn't have happened if Thomas hadn't made a huge save on the Capitals' Marcus Johansson first. The Bruins made the most of the ensuing opportunity.

After Thomas stopped Johansson, Bruins defenseman Joe Corvo collected the rebound and moved the puck to forward Benoit Pouliot. He quickly dished it to Brian Rolston, who made the pass to the streaking Kelly.

"It flashed in my mind right away, last year a couple of different times in overtime when I made a great save, we went right down and scored," Thomas said. "I saw Chris take the long pass, I saw he had a step on the defenseman and I had a good feeling. I had a feeling that it was going to go in and I felt good about the guy who had the puck."

It turned out that Thomas' soothsayer's image was correct -- again.

Game 1 was an intense physical battle, especially between Boston's top defensive pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg against Ovechkin.

"Our guys did a good job against him, but I also have to give him credit, he didn't back down," Julien said. "He played and he played hard. He knew he was going to be checked all night and we were going to have people on him as soon as he got the puck. He didn't have as much space as I think he would like to have."

This series may be more of challenge for the Bruins than most thought. Holtby proved worthy and probably gained confidence from his performance.

"He played solid," Seidenberg said. "We did get a lot of shots on net, but we have to do a little bit better of a job getting in front of him and getting to his rebounds around the crease. We just have to focus a little more on that and do a better job."

If Game 1 is any indication, this series could turn on whichever goalie blinks first.