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USA TODAY’s Kevin Allen previews the playoff hockey this weekend and how the Blues, Caps, and Ducks face must-win situations after dropping game ones at home.
USA TODAY Sports

Former Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden once told USA TODAY Sports that he didn’t believe in exonerating his goalkeeper for goals surrendered on breakaways or odd-man rushes.

“You don’t pay the goalie to make easy saves,” Sinden said. “You pay him to make the hard saves, the saves that keep you in games.”

The Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby has made those challenging saves all season, re-establishing that he’s one of the NHL’s elite netminders. He’s a game-changer on the order of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.

But after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal, Holtby said he should have prevented two of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goals in a 3-2 win over the Capitals. Included in those two goals was the third-period breakaway tally by Nick Bonino that proved to be the game-winner.

“In a series, there are games where the difference is going to be the goalie on the other side is going to make one more save or your goalie is going to make one more save,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said.

Nobody on the Capitals blamed Holtby for the Game 1 result. He wasn’t the reason why they lost, though he didn’t lift them to a win, either. “I thought he was fine,” Trotz said. “But he didn’t think he played as good as he could.”

Holtby can play sharper. We saw it in the regular season when he posted a 2.07 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage with nine shutouts. Marc-Andre Fleury outperformed him in the opening game. He made the extra save, actually a few them, during a goalmouth scramble in the third period when everyone seemed to lose sight of the puck except Fleury. While Fleury stopped 33 of 35 shots, Holtby stopped 18 of 21.

The truth is Holtby has been OK in these playoffs. His playoff numbers (2.46 GAA, .919 SV%) are not measuring up to his regular-season numbers, or his career playoff numbers (1.95, .935).

Exceptional is anticipated from Holtby and he has delivered acceptable in the first seven games of the postseason. In a series matching the league’s top two teams, the Capitals will need more from him. Fair or not, the Capitals needed Holtby to beat Bonino on that breakaway.

After Friday’s practice, Washington defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said he bore some responsibility for the breakaway because he didn’t prevent the pass from Scott Wilson that created it.

“If I’m on Wilson a little tighter there, the puck doesn’t even get in our zone,” Shattenkirk said. “Once that pass happens, I have to do a good job to take a peek to see what’s…