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Capitals figure to rely on third-string goalie in playoffs

The SportsXchange

The Washington Capitals did it the hard way, waiting until the next-to-last game of the season to clinch a playoff spot.

But they also did it by going 9-4-2 down the stretch while losing their No. 1 and No. 2 goalies.

Now that the Capitals have clinched a berth in the playoffs for a fifth straight year by virtue of their 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres' 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, their playoff destiny will be handed to an unproven 22-year-old goalie.

Braden Holtby replaced an injured Michal Neuvirth early in the second period Thursday night and likely will be the Capitals' starting goalie when they open the playoffs next week.

Holtby spent most of this season with the AHL Hershey Bears and is 3-2-1 for the Caps. He has played in just two playoff series in his career, one with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League and another for the Bears in last year's Calder Cup playoffs.

Which team Holtby will face in the first round is still a mystery. The Caps still can win the Southeast Division with a win over the New York Rangers on Saturday, combined with a Panthers regulation loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

If the Panthers win, the Caps likely will finish as the eighth seed and face the top-seeded Rangers. But there is also a chance they finish in seventh. If the Senators lose their final game against New Jersey, the Panthers pick up a point or better against Carolina and the Caps beat New York, the Caps would finish ahead of Ottawa as the seventh seed.
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