Boston Celtics

Haggs: Holtby out-playing Thomas


Haggs: Holtby out-playing Thomas

The clich goes that theres a reason actual sporting events are never played out on paper, or spit out of a computer like a strat-o-matic game for adults.

The playoff series between the Bruins and Capitals began as a goaltending mismatch on that very-same paper: a showdown between a soon-to-be 38-year-old veteran thats won every goaltending award imaginable, and a 22-year-old fresh-faced rookie with absolutely zero postseason experience.

It seemed like the most predictable of outcomes.

But thats why they play em. The first round playoff series is close to over because the young Braden Holtby has outplayed the formidable Tim Thomas on the ice, and thats where it matters most.

The latest chapter in the one-sided matchup between the two played out Saturday afternoon with the Capitals taking a 4-3 victory over the Bruins at TD Garden. Another Holtby win in a one-goal game allowed his underdog Capitals to take a commanding 3-2 lead in the series.

The plot will thicken with Game 6 scheduled less than 24 hours later in Washington DC, and the Caps handed a chance to close things out at home. The underdog sits just one more piece of Holtby brilliance away from skating off with the upset, and the reigning Stanley Cup champs sit one defeat away from addressing some very heady questions during the offseason.

It would have been difficult for the Bruins to even entertain dealing Thomas heading into next season if hed repeated his Conn Smythe, Vezina and Stanley Cup efforts again this spring, but that doesnt appear to be happening. But his average playoff performance after turning Bostons regular season into his own personal political agenda loosens up their attachment to the veteran goaltender quite a bit.

Thomas no-trade clause is gone as of July 1 and his actual 2012-13 salary drops to 3 million while retaining a 5 million cap hit a wrinkle that will make the veteran netminder attractive to a goalie-starved team looking to hit the cap floor while saving ownership a few bucks.

While its clear to those that closely watched the Bruins Thomas wasnt the same goalie this year once the calendar hit January, there is still enough value associated with the goalie to net the Bruins a few picks and a prospect this summer.

But thats a story for another day with the playoff series against the Capitals still not quite over.

The third period told the tale for both goalies on Saturday afternoon, but the numbers for each of them over the course of the series spoke volumes. Holtby has a .946 save percentage through his first five playoff games while Thomas holds a pedestrian .922 save percentage thats very much in line with his average numbers from the regular season.

Perhaps Thomas should have been focused more on stopping the puck during Fridays practice than snapping his glove hand around flamboyantly while attempting to mimic the showy style of the young Holtby.

Sure the Bruins have fired off plenty of perimeter shots in the series, and the Capitals have blocked close to 100 shots in five playoff games. But Holtby has also been deep in the psyche of Bostons best forwards since the very first two games in Boston.

Hes just playing steady and guys are playing hard in front of him. Hes making the saves he needs to make. Thats all you can ask for from your goalie, said Mike Knuble. Make the saves youre supposed to make and the odd one that youre not supposed to make too. I think weve been very limited in the real Grade-A chances on him. Weve done a good job of eliminating them.

But back to the third period with both teams entering the final session tied 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. Holtby made the save of the series while dropping into a split and kicking away a Tyler Seguin shot aimed for the vacant net. The net had opened up after a brilliant backhanded pass through the crease by Milan Lucic, but Holtby showed energy and explosion going post-to-post for the save.

It bounced off the backboards and it kind of happened quickly, said Holtby, who finished with 34 stops on the afternoon. They threw it out front and I just kind of read it last minute and got a toe on it, probably the very last piece of metal in my skate.

That stop preserved the 2-2 score and appeared to give the Capitals new life. Shortly afterward Washington potted a go-ahead goal when Joel Ward leveled a shot at Thomas from the left side, and the Bs goaltender kicked a juicy rebound straight onto Mike Knubles stick.

Knuble beat a leaping Thomas to put the Capitals ahead, but the Bruins scratched back with a Johnny Boychuk screaming blast later on in the third period. But the Capitals werent done and they managed to score again on Thomas with a power play awarded in the last three minutes of the third period.

Troy Brouwer fired a shot at Thomas from the outside of the right face-off circle that the Bs goaltender would normally handle with ease, but instead he simply missed the puck to his glove side. It was soft-serve no matter how goals are viewed by the discerning eye, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal given up by Thomas and the Bruins.

Did Thomas want those two goals back?

I dont look at things like that exactly. The third goal I wish I could have controlled the rebound better. Brouwers goal he fooled me and beat me clean, said Thomas. Hes coming down with a lot of speed. He shot and I read that the shot was going lower. By the time I even realized that the shot was going that high, I didnt even have time to raise my hand.

One good thing about the Bruins dressing room afterward: unlike two days prior when Thomas called out the Bs forwards for failing to create scoring chances in front of the net, there were no forwards talking about the soft-serve ice cream goals their goaltender let past him at crunch time in Game 5.

Instead one goaltender spoke excitedly about his best save of the game, and the other waxed philosophical about two that hed like to have back: before the series started one would never have guess that Holtby is the former and Thomas was the latter.

But thats one of the major storylines of the series as the Capitals sit poised to knock off the Stanley Cup champs with one more Holtby-led effort, and the Bruins might be looking in the mirror for answers very shortly.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.