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Washington Capitals Fall 1-0 to New York Rangers in Game 2 of Their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series, Trail Series 2-0

The Rangers will take a 2-0 series lead with them back to New York after shutting out the Washington Capitals, 1-0, in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.

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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau surprised most everyone yesterday when he sent veteran goaltender José Theodore to the bench and put rookie Simeon Varlamov between the pipes for Game 2 of his team's Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New York Rangers.

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It was a gutsy move, and Varlamov's performance validated Boudreau's gamble. But the story of yesterday's 1-0 loss to the New York Rangers unfolded at the other end of the Verizon Center ice, where all-star Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 35 shots he faced, including 16 in the third period, to put the Capitals down 2-0.

The series shifts to Madison Square Garden, where Alex Ovechkin and his teammates will face long odds. Teams who have found themselves down 2-0 have come back to win a best-of-seven series less than 13 percent of the time and the Capitals have never done it, going 0 for 4 in franchise history.

"You have to tell the guys to keep the faith," Boudreau said. "A break here and break there. I don't mean a lot of breaks. One break in either game, and we could be up 2-0."

Varlamov stopped 23 shots and gave his team a chance, unlike Theodore, who struggled during Wednesday's 4-3 loss in Game 1. But for the second consecutive game, Lundqvist showed why he's a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist by frustrating the Capitals' cadre of skilled forwards.

The Capitals' best opportunity to beat Lundqvist, though, wasn't technically a shot on goal. With about six minutes left to play, Alexander Semin picked off an errant breakout pass by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and fed the puck to Ovechkin, who was alone in the slot. Ovechkin aimed for the sliver of net just above Lundqvist's glove. But he missed, and the puck skimmed off the top of the cross bar and into the netting above the glass. Ovechkin threw his head back in disgust, put his gloved hand to his face and muttered to himself.

"Obviously we couldn't get anything by him, and the one we got by him hit the crossbar," Boudreau said. "It was probably the only one that beat him. Lundqvist had to make more saves than our guy, but it was a disappointing end to a great game for us."

Lundqvist has stopped 67 of the 70 shots he has faced in the series -- and yesterday, he got plenty of help from the Rangers in front of him. His teammates blocked 29 shots, eight more than they blocked in Game 1.

"In the playoffs, when their goalie feels the game and he plays great, it's tough to score," Ovechkin said. "We had lots of chances. He saved the net and won the game."

Ovechkin and the Capitals also gave Lundqvist some help. Most of their shots were taken from the perimeter, they generated little traffic in front of the Rangers' goalie and there was no one there on the odd occasion that Lundqvist did leave a juicy rebound in a dangerous spot.

"A lot of shots were coming from the outside, but rebounds were coming into spots where we needed to be," defenseman Mike Green said. "But we weren't there."

Lundqvist added: "There's no secrets in the playoffs. Everybody knows how you have to score. You have to pay a price for it."

At one end of the ice, there was Lundqvist, in the postseason for the fourth consecutive year and en route to his third career playoff shutout. At the other, there was Varlamov, making his seventh NHL appearance. Varlamov's inexperience is emblazoned on his helmet, which has the Capitals' logo on one side and the minor league Hershey Bears' logo on the other.

But he never looked like a first-year player who turns 21 later this month. In fact, the only shot to beat Varlamov came on an odd-man break in a fast-paced and physical first period.

The play that led to the decisive goal began deep in the Rangers' zone with a turnover by Ovechkin. One long pass later, Ryan Callahan and Markus Naslund were free and clear on a two-on-one break. Capitals defenseman Tom Poti cut off Naslund, forcing the veteran winger to make a perfect pass. Which is exactly what he did, threading the puck through Poti to Callahan, who went high to Varlamov's glove hand at 7 minutes 44 seconds.

"We make one mistake and they use it," Ovechkin said.

Varlamov said through an interpreter: "The guy who shot the puck played it very well. I didn't really have a lot of chance to get it. It was right in the upper corner."

After Callahan's goal, the Capitals continued to pepper Lund-

qvist with mostly long-range and low-percentage shots, and the Rangers' goalie continued to turn them away with ease.

There was a turnaround in the second period -- but not the type Boudreau was looking for. The Rangers outshot the Capitals 10-6, of which only three were taken at even strength.

It's unclear whether Varlamov will start Game 3 tomorrow. Boudreau said he'll make that decision today, when the Capitals will have an optional skate before flying to New York, where they'll be faced with the task of saving their season.

"We have to regroup and go on the road for two games," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "It's going to be a little uphill, but we still have chances. It's a best-of-seven, so we still have chances."


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