Holtby looks human in Caps’ Game 3 loss

It was one of the rare shots Braden Holtby saw clearly Monday night.

A snap shot by Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley that bounded off the rookie Washington Capitals goalie’s glove and dribbled into the net 35 seconds into the second period. Gone was the Caps’ first lead of the night — and at least some of Holtby’s aura.

“That first goal, I should have had,” Holtby said after the Bruins’ 4-3 victory at Verizon Center. “It was a good shot. It was well-placed. But it was (a shot) I feel that I had the capability to stop.”

Holtby can hardly be faulted on the Bruins’ other three goals as Boston took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Still, he didn’t have quite the swagger he displayed when he allowed three goals over seven-plus periods in Boston.

He lost his stick in the first period and mishandled the puck a few times early in the game in a 25-save performance. But, mostly, credit Boston for implementing the universal blueprint to solve a hot goalie: create traffic in front of the net.

Those screens in front of Holtby led directly to the next two goals.

Fault Caps defensemen Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz for not clearing out Boston forward Daniel Paille from the front of the crease midway through the second period. Paille was allowed not only to screen Holtby, but Paille actually had time to put on a deke to score.

Wideman and Schultz — who are tied with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Detroit’s Brad Stuart for the worst plus-minus of the playoffs (minus-4) — were also not much use as the Bruins went ahead 3-2 with a minute left in the second period. The Caps were unable to grab a loose puck before veteran forward Brian Rolston hopped on a rebound after a scramble in front of the net.

“I thought he (Holtby) played well tonight,” Rolston said. “Obviously, we’ve seen him now. They scout our guys just like we scout theirs. There was nothing different. We just got more breaks than they did.”

There were other distractions other than the guys standing in front of Holtby’s net.

It wasn’t the most tightly called game by the referees to put it mildly. Missed calls abound and one particularly didn’t go unnoticed by Holtby’s counterpart.

“I stay within my game by not even seeing them,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said of the missed calls. “Every once in a while, you see something like when Zdeno Chara’s helmet flies off after he gets hit by a 5-foot-10 guy. Obviously, something had to happen in regards to leaving the feet.”

That would be Matt Hendricks’ check of the 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman in the third period. No penalty was called on the play, which had become a trend in the game.

“It doesn’t affect me too much,” Holtby said of the officiating. “It can be frustrating at times — I’m not saying it happened tonight — if something you think should be a penalty isn’t called. If you let it affect you, it’s going to change your game.”

Holtby was ultimately done in by a shot that changed directions en route to the net. Chara, who wasn’t hurt on the collision with Hendricks, had a shot from the point deflect off Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik for the game winner with 1:53 left in regulation.

The calls did ratchet up late, including a match penalty called against Caps star center Nicklas Backstrom, who cross-checked Peverley in the face as regulation expired. Backstrom’s match penalty included an automatic one-game suspension unless the league rescinds the penalty.

Holtby was the Caps’ third option in net just a few weeks back behind Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun. Now, Holtby is their only option due to injuries and the 22-year-old said he’s ready to rebound on Thursday.

“We are going to see the same (next game), that net-front presence,” Holtby said. “I didn’t have my best game tonight. I need to respond in Game 4. It’s just hard work. It’s not that we aren’t doing it, but we know as a group we can do better. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”