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No Longer A No-Name: Goalie Simeon Varlamov Becomes One of the Most Recognizable Washington Capitals

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"He's a very good cook," Varlamov said of his father. "Any wife would be jealous of what he can do."

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There have also been practical, hockey-related adjustments. Coach Bruce Boudreau is not much for constant conversation with his goalies; other than "Good morning," he has said nothing to Varlamov during the playoffs. That task is left to Prior, who has a bevy of choices as interpreters -- Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov and Ovechkin, all bilingual Russians -- to overcome Varlamov's still-developing English, for which he is taking lessons. By now, Prior said, Varlamov knows goaltending lingo. Still, at the end of yesterday's workout, Prior left the ice to find Kozlov to help him deliver a final message.

"I have a bigger fear of him misunderstanding my meaning," Prior said. Prior even tracked down an electronic Russian-to-English translator in New York. Should Varlamov have a question, he can type in the Russian word; the machine spits out the English.

"I think he's gotten better at communicating on the ice," defenseman Mike Green said. "It's not a problem now."

Neither, for the moment, is the Capitals' goaltending. Theodore was unreliable in the first playoff game, a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers. The Capitals, the second seed in the Eastern Conference, faced a crucial decision. Still, Prior's instinct was clear: He wanted to return with Theodore.

"It wasn't out of fear with Varly," Prior said. "It's just one guy was very experienced. The other guy, you don't know how he'll handle the situation."

Boudreau, though, consulted with McPhee over two tense days. They went over the scenario carefully. Washington was down by just one game, and Game 2 was at home. Theodore had responded well to previous benchings.

"With Varly still being an unknown, we thought, 'Okay, if we make the change now, and he can't do it, then we're only down two,' " Boudreau said. "But if we went in after Game 2 and we decided we needed to change it up, and you're going in with an unknown -- in New York, in Madison Square Garden -- you're in tough shape. . . . We didn't want to be down 3-0 and think, 'Uh-oh, now we've got to do something.' It was more a matter of just, this was the time to get it done, earlier rather than later."

That is precisely when Varlamov's moment has come, earlier rather than later. "Everybody gets nervous," Varlamov said. "But when I'm playing, when I'm on the rink, I'm concentrating on the game. Nothing else."

Yesterday, after he signed his last autograph, Varlamov walked alone out of the Capitals' facility. Just before he did, he pulled the hood of his black sweatshirt over his head, already adorned with a black baseball cap. Two months ago, he wouldn't have been recognized. Now, people not only know how to pronounce his name, they chant it as well.


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