Washington Capitals Goaltender Simeon Varlamov Has Bright Future

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.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

The initial bit of drama in Game 2 of the Washington Capitals' Eastern Conference playoff series came long before the puck dropped. The first Capital to emerge from the locker room was a 20-year-old goaltender from Russia who, three nights earlier, had witnessed his first NHL playoff game from the safety of the bench, the only pressure-free zone at Verizon Center. Yet yesterday afternoon, there was Simeon Varlamov -- NHL résumé: 328 minutes -- taking the ice as the Capitals' starting goaltender.

"It was my dream since childhood," Varlamov said. "It is not a secret."

The secret, until that moment, was that Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau had chosen Varlamov over veteran José Theodore, whose shaky performance in Game 1 put Washington in an early hole in its series against the New York Rangers. Now, however, it can be revealed: Even though the Capitals lost, 1-0, and, unthinkably, fell behind by two games as the series heads to New York, Boudreau has a young goalie to whom he can and will turn, even in a tight spot.

"He's just a calm guy," defenseman Mike Green said of Varlamov, who will be able to legally buy a drink a week from tomorrow. "Seems like he's very mature for his age. It shows on the ice. He's a good young goaltender, and he's got a bright future ahead of him. Tonight, he played exceptionally well."

Just not well enough to match the extraordinary Henrik Lundqvist of New York, and, therefore, not well enough to win. Of the 24 shots Varlamov faced, the only one to get by was the second. Less than eight minutes into the game, Ryan Callahan took a pass from Markus Naslund and quickly lifted it high over Varlamov's glove.

"I didn't really have a lot of chances to get it," Varlamov said through an interpreter. Theodore, sitting in the last seat on the bench and wearing a blue Capitals baseball cap, watched the replay on the scoreboard closely. "Great play," Boudreau said.

From there, even as Varlamov occasionally looked wobbly, the Rangers managed nothing, and his confidence appeared to grow. Boudreau would not divulge the thinking behind the decision -- about which he had remained coy for two days -- nor would he reveal who would play in Game 3 tomorrow night.

"We'll see how that goes," Boudreau said. "I'll think about it [Saturday night], and we'll talk to the coaches [today], and we'll make a decision [today]."

Boudreau's decision to start Varlamov came after Theodore allowed four goals -- including two that Theodore believed he should have saved -- on 21 shots in the Game 1 loss. Theodore did not address the decision yesterday, but Boudreau said, "He was very professional. He understood. He obviously wants to play, and he knows that there's an opportunity for him to play again if we continue this."

On the ice, Theodore acted professionally as well.

"After the warmup," Varlamov said, "he walked over to me and said, 'Don't worry about it. I was 20 years old when I played my first [playoff] game. It was in Montreal. Don't worry about it. I think you'll be fine.' "

Varlamov, it turns out, was fine. But because the Capitals trailed late, he skated off to the bench in the game's final minute, replaced by an extra skater. There, he watched as the last seconds ticked off and then headed to the locker room. And as he turned, a gloved hand reached out and smacked him in the back, a tap of encouragement. It was the hand of Theodore, who followed his replacement back into the locker room, neither of them certain of what's ahead.

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