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April 20, 2012     Post-Gazette
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Page16 BOSTON POST-GAZETTE, APRIL 20, 2012 RNER AL by Reinaldo Oliveira, Jr. All Showing Their "FIST of Fury!" Juan "Butcher Boy" Botta and Vito Antuofermo Missy "The Fury" Fiorentino John O'Brien Wilbur "Skeeter" McClure, Joey DeGrandis and Danny Long Tony DeMarco, Carlos Garcia and Carlos Ortiz Tony Petronelli, Goody Petronelli and Peter Marciano Richie "The Mountain" LaMontagne. Jaime "The Hurricane" Clampitt Larry Belcamino Donnell Wigfall and Chris Sarno Jimmy FarreIl, Dan O'Malley and Charles "Babe" Wood Marine Peter Santoro. A fighter, awarded two Purple Hearts at Iwo Jima. Joey DeGrandis Vinny Paz Jimmy Manning and Sean Creegan Irish Micky Ward Riddick Bowe and Tony Promoter Jimmy Burchfleld DeMarco. and Paul Poirier HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss Just where did he come from, this person out of the red, white and blue? What about this goalie who seemed to hold the Bruins at bay in the early games of the East- ern Conference quarterfinal series with the Washington Capitals? Braden Holtby, the substi- tute netminder who kept Washington in the first three games of the series with Bos- ton, was born and raised on the Canadian prairie, a long way from the political capital of America. Lloydminster, Saskatchewan is a small city of just under 28,000 people on the provin- cial border with Alberta. Somewhat isolated and rural, it is the perfect incubator for a potential career in hockey. Far from the bright lights of a large population center, local hockey becomes the center- piece around which all else revolves. It's also the home- town of Garnet "Ace" Bailey, who won two Stanley Cups with the B's and died in the September 11 attacks. Holtby would be introduced to big time crowds when he began playing for the Saska- toon Blades of the Western Hockey League, the only team continuously operating in the league since the WIlL's foundation in 1966. The Blades play their games in the 15,195 seat Credit Union Centre, a facility that would rival many arenas in the U.S. The 900g-9.007 ga 0n far from stellar as he posted a 3.21 goals against average and an unimpressive .895 save percentage over the course of 51 games (17-29-3). Those are not numbers that will bring NHL scouts to your door, that's for sure. The next year (2007-2008) was somewhat of an improve- ment statistics wise, as he went 25-29-8 with a 2.84 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Washington took a chance on him, selecting him in the fourth round (93ra overall) of the 2008 NHL draft. Such a move apparently did wonders for his confidence as he went 40-16-4 in his final season with Saskatoon with a 2.62 GAA and a .910 save percentage. He then split his first sea- son in the Caps organization between the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He went 25-8-2 with Hershey with an improved 2.32 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He represented the Sting- rays in the ECHL All-Star game. The Bruins were a part of a big day in Holtby's life, That would be November 5, 2010 when he made his NHL debut at the Verizon Center with 10 minutes remaining in the game and the score tied at 3-3. Replacing Michal Neuvirth, he stopped four shots by the B's as the Caps scored twice to claim the victory. It also didn't take long for Holtby to become associated with overtime. Two nights later he made his first NHL start against the Philadelphia Flyers, a contest the Caps would win in the extra ses- sion. Overall he would go 10-2-2 in 14 games with the Caps that season, finishing with a 1.79 GAA and a .934 save percentage. He also played 30 games with Her- shey, going 17-10-1, 2.29 GAA and a .920 save percentage. The regular season that just ended was more of the same, with Holtby playing in only seven games. But when Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun went down with injuries near the close of the regular season, the Caps had really no choice but to turn to Holtby. It has been the classic story of the sub getting his oppor- tunity and making the most of it -- at least in the early games. Holtby shut out the B's in regulation in game 1, allowing the winning goal by Chris Kelly with just over a minute into the first over- time. It was Boston's first 1-0 overtime playoff victory since March 23, 1935. Yes, you read that right -- 1935. The second game was more of the same as he allowed the B's only a single tally as Wash- ington won 2-1 to even the series at 1-1. Through two games this third-stringer had stellar stats -- a .083 GAA and a .973 save percentage. Boston had six 20-goal scor- ers in the regular season but Holtby seelTled to havepu t them in hibernation, he about to pull a Doug Flutie and dislodge the regulars ahead of him now that he had been given his chance? Game three arrived and the B's came away 4-3 winners to take a 2-1 series lead. Holtby's goals against average went up to .177 -- still excel- lent but not off the charts. For example, B's goalie Tim Thomas was better at 1.47 through three games. As the series turned toward game four there was a sense that the Bruins had perhaps "figured out Holtby." But there was also the reality that the series had been close -- the first three games had all been decided by one goal and nei- ther team could claim the upper hand. If you believe in series stats then the B's had history on their side -- they are 19-6 all-time in best-of- seven series in which they lead 2- 1 in games. When the series opened several members of the media were concerned about Washington, focusing their thoughts on Alex Ovechkin and Nieklas Backstrom. But then out of nowhere came H01tby and suddenly there was a new situation to con- tend with -- the hot goalie. It may well be that the Bru- ins will prevail and move on to the second round. But one had a feeling as the series progressed that the advance- ment was not a given and that the play of Holtby -- whether stellar or average--would loom large as a factor as to whether the Bruins would play into May.