Correction to This Article
This article on the Washington Capitals' decision on who will be the starting goaltender for the first game of the NHL postseason incorrectly said that Paul Maurice coached the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Peter Laviolette coached the team that year.

Capitals may use two primary goaltenders once the playoffs begin

Coach Bruce Boudreau may buck conventional wisdom and use both José Theodore, left, and Semyon Varlamov when the playoffs start, but he isn't tipping his hand.
Coach Bruce Boudreau may buck conventional wisdom and use both José Theodore, left, and Semyon Varlamov when the playoffs start, but he isn't tipping his hand. (Photos By Greg Fiume/getty Images)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010

The question has lingered over the Washington Capitals for weeks, and with two games remaining before the playoffs, Coach Bruce Boudreau still hasn't named which goaltender will start Game 1 of the quarterfinals.

"I haven't discussed anything with anybody," Boudreau said. "I'm still evaluating. Nothing has been etched in stone."

The prevailing sentiment around the league is that Boudreau hasn't committed to either José Theodore or Semyon Varlamov because he believes that it's possible, if not likely, the Capitals could need both in their quest for the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

While that's not the conventional approach, it's not unprecedented in recent NHL history, either. Three of the past four champions, in fact, started the playoffs with one goaltender and switched to another en route to the Cup.

Goaltending-by-committee is also consistent with Boudreau's longstanding philosophy of riding the hot netminder and the pattern he has established over the past two months. Neither Theodore nor Varlamov have received more than two consecutive starts since Varlamov returned from groin muscle and knee injuries in mid-February.

"I took out Roberto Luongo in [the American Hockey League playoffs] when he wasn't getting the job done," said Boudreau, who coached Luongo in the New York Islanders organization. "This is right after he just won a series single-handedly."

While statistics suggest the job should belong to Theodore, who is 19-0-3 in his last 22 decisions compared with Varlamov's 3-3-3 record since coming off injured reserve, the fact that Boudreau hasn't come out and named him the starter has raised eyebrows, particularly because the coach replaced Theodore one game into last year's playoff run with an untested Varlamov.

"The last couple of months I've been pretty consistent," Theodore said. "So there's not much more I can do."

Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goalie who now works as an analyst for NHL Network, said that even if Boudreau has made up his mind, by not announcing it publicly, he's creating an "unnecessary controversy."

"I like Bruce Boudreau, he's done a great job turning that franchise around," Weekes said. "But it's creating an unnecessary controversy that doesn't need to be there -- because, whichever way they go, they are operating from a position of strength."

The case for Theodore

Following a 4-3 loss to the Rangers in Game 1 in the first round of last season's playoffs, Theodore was pulled and did not get another start. Then, in August, his 2-month-old son died from complications related to a premature birth. Although the 33-year-old veteran is known for his mental toughness, even the most ardent Theodore supporters had their concerns.

But with just a few exceptions, Theodore has put together one of his most consistent and productive regular seasons, an effort underscored by his remarkable run the past eight weeks.

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