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Correction to This Article
The column incorrectly said that Washington Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov was undefeated in the regular season. He was undefeated in regulation time, but was in goal for an overtime loss.

Capitals' Simeon Varlamov Is Worthy of Chants, and Mispronunciations, vs. Rangers

Matt Bradley scores two goals in the first period and Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin each add one as the Capitals fend off elimination by blanking the Rangers, 4-0.

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By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, April 25, 2009

Two weeks ago, a reporter said, "Hello, Simeon," to Simeon Varlamov, who was then merely the Capitals' 20-year-old backup goaltender, rather than the most desperately important man in Washington for those with ice on the brain.

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"That's not my name," Varlamov said in perfect English. He politely but firmly explained that his name should be pronounced "Sem-yon." That's what sometimes happens when you switch from the Russian Cyrillic alphabet to ours.

Then, this week, the Caps' own announcers learned that they, like everybody else, had been pronouncing Varlamov's last name incorrectly, too. How can you get both of this guy's names wrong? After his 4-0 shutout victory over the Rangers last night in a win-or-go-home Game 5, he may soon be the Goalie Who Saved the Season.

It's not Var-la-MOV. It's Var-lam-ov, with the "lam" pronounced to rhyme with "bomb."

And, yes, Varlamov, who was put in goal to replace veteran José Theodore after a 4-3 Caps defeat in Game 1, has indeed been da bomb. His world is moving with explosive speed. Varlamov will celebrate his 21st birthday on Monday, which -- if the Caps survive their trip to New York for tomorrow's Game 6 -- would be the day before a climactic Game 7 at Verizon Center.

If that sequence transpires, then Varlamov may be the first Russian player ever to turn 21 during an NHL season and not have even a single drop of vodka to celebrate.

"Just creeping up on 21, he's a pretty special player," the Caps' Brian Pothier said. "He certainly came along at the right time."

"In practice, shooting on him, he's tremendous," high-scoring defenseman Mike Green said. "He's so quick and so calm. It's tough to find a hole on him. Even when the puck comes through two or three players, he still seems to see it and react to it. He's been incredible for us."

And he's happy. As he skated off the ice, he tossed the puck -- a memento of his second shutout in the span of three games -- "to my girlfriend." Of course, he's also pleased to hear a recognizable version of his own name. "They started to pronounce my last name correctly after the last game," he said through an interpreter. "They made some corrections and I was very glad to hear that."

If Varlamov is a mystery to the Rangers, who seem to have no clue to his tendencies or (since they presumably exist) his flaws, they shouldn't feel bad. He's a mystery to his own coach, Bruce Boudreau, who put this series on his shoulders, yet barely speaks to him. "I don't want to get in his head," Boudreau said. "I don't want to talk to him and screw him up somehow."

Even before this crucial but lopsided Game 5 victory, it was Varlamov, not the famous Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, who was the (slightly) hotter goalie. Sem-yon Var-lam-ov (is everybody practicing along at home?) actually had a higher save percentage, .962 to .942 and had allowed fewer goals per game, 1.01 to 2.00.

Now? Why good heavens, it's not even close. Varlamov's stats are .969 and 0.76 to Lundqvist's .926 and 2.57. The goalie they call "the King" in New York let in goals barely worthy of a peon on this all-Caps all-the-time night. In what may have been the pivotal instant in this game, Lundqvist allowed one of the softest goals you'll ever see, letting in a medium-speed wrist shot by Matt Bradley from the tightest of short-side angles. Somehow, when Lundqvist should have had every available inch of the goal blocked -- easily -- with some part of his body, he allowed the puck to squeeze through an unprotected crack. You could almost hear the air leave the Rangers' balloon.


CONTINUED     1        >

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