The sight of Braden Holtby charging out of his net clearly flustered Mitch Marner.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie busting out of the penalty box and in all alone, the Washington Capitals goaltender made a split-second decision to abandon his crease and slide to knock the puck away from Marner.
“Not exactly an ideal play in that situation, but it worked out,” Holtby said.
Two nights later, Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson didn’t wait for Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand to take a shot, diving out of his crease to poke the puck away. Anderson remembered what Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower told him back in juniors about how he played back in his day.
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“The first time he ever came out sliding into a guy he was nervous, and I was nervous,” Anderson said. “I’m just glad it worked out.”
Taking a risk and being aggressive paid off for Holtby and Anderson as they made a couple of unconventional saves in big situations during this first round of the playoffs. Two of the top goaltenders during the regular season, Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild, have struggled at times. Holtby and Anderson showed that taking a calculated chance can be the right move.
“They have to make those quick decisions,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said Thursday. “A puck like that, (Holtby) has to process if he can get to that puck. If he’s not even close, then that’s an easy tap-in when the guy goes around him. I think that’s where exceptional goaltenders, they can process so quickly.”
Holtby used to handle the puck so often he developed the reputation of stickhandling as well as a forward but last year’s Vezina Trophy winner has stayed closer to the crease the past couple of seasons.
Midway through the second period of Game 3 Monday, Holtby saw Nikita Zaitsev bank the puck off the boards to Marner and went against his usual instincts to sit back and make the save.
“When I looked up he was full hauling to me, so it got me confused,” Marner said. “When I got to him, I didn’t know if I wanted to stick handle around him or chip it. He got a stick on it as soon as I tried to make something out of it. It was a great play by him; he really confused me in that situation. I tried to flip the puck up, but it was too late.”
That’s the idea, to take the scoring chance away. Of course, it could have ended in an easy goal, too.
“When I’ve had to slide like that, not very often and not very often it’s worked out,” Holtby said. “Usually, you try to read it so you get can there and make a play with it and it was just the puck died or I misread the speed of it. But when you’re out there, you’re committed and you have to find a way to not let him get around you.”
Holtby’s dive made Anderson’s poke check look relatively conservative. After stopping Marchand on a breakaway on the first shift of Game 4 Wednesday, Anderson figured it best not to let an All-Star who scored 39 goals and shot 17.3 percent this season get another crack at him.
In the process of shutting out the Bruins, Anderson may have also gotten in their heads.
“It’s frustrating when I had two grade-A chances and should have capitalized on at least one of them,” Marchand said. “That’s tough.”
Without even knowing it, Anderson also provided a boost to the Senators, who later cracked Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask to win a 1-0 game.
“It gets us excited because we know how frustrating it is from the other point of view being the forward on the breakaway or being the team trying to capitalize on the opportunity,” center Kyle Turris said. “Seeing a goalie come out like that and kind of do something that different or rare, it really gets you going, everybody gets up on the bench and it’s a good feeling.”
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston and The Canadian Press contributed.
More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/NHLhockey
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno