Capitals should go back to Theodore for Game 3

By Mike Wise
Monday, April 19, 2010; D01

Bruce Boudreau has several good reasons to start Semyon Varlamov in goal for Game 3 Monday night in Montreal.

For one, yanking José Theodore for the kid worked a year ago in Game 2 of the first round against the Rangers, who could hardly solve the Russian wunderkind and eventually lost the series in seven games.

Since Montreal's own Theodore will understandably be emotionally charged to go up against his former Canadiens in Game 3, why even take the chance of letting a Bell Centre crowd rattle him any further? He's probably already shaken up from being pulled in the first period of Game 2 after letting in the only two shots he faced.

And why not give Varly -- who, before battling injury and inconsistency this season, excelled in net last postseason -- the confidence needed to battle deep into May and June?

Every reason the Capitals' coach has for keeping Theodore on the bench has well-founded logic behind it.

But this isn't about logic. It's about gut and feel, two intuitive qualities that have served Boudreau well throughout his coaching career. It's also about fairness.

It's about giving José Theodore the second chance in the postseason he never got a year ago, the chance Boudreau now realizes he should have gotten in Game 7 of the second round against Pittsburgh after the Penguins unleashed a four-goal onslaught on a clearly stunned Varlamov -- and there went the series.

It would be one thing if Theodore had struggled mightily prior to the postseason like a year ago. But he has often been impenetrable in goal since January. His strong playoff debut last Thursday night in Game 1 -- Theodore repelled at least 20 point-blank shots -- was only overshadowed by Jaroslav Halak stopping 45 of 47 shots in Montreal's upset.

He's also well known for his mental toughness, being able to rebound from adversity.

"It's something I always take a lot of pride in -- bouncing back," Theodore said Sunday after the team practiced. "The good thing about the playoffs is you play pretty much every other day, so it's easy to forget about it and bounce back."

No awful night on the ice will ever equate to losing his infant son, Chace, last August from respiratory complications related to a premature birth -- a tragedy that led Theodore to create the Saves for Kids program, in which he donates $2 for each save, $100 for every win and $500 for each shutout to the benefit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's National Medical Center.

But even in the aftermath of a traumatic instance no parent should ever have to deal with, Theodore's professional resilience was on display. After he was given time off during the grieving process in November when he struggled for a while, he came back determined and ready after missing five games.

Boudreau, who said he planned to make the decision on the plane ride to Montreal whether Varlamov or Theodore will start in goal, often goes to the numbers when he is unsure of his gut.

Theodore hasn't been swell at the Bell since he starred for the Canadiens between 2000 and 2005. In two games as an opposing goalie in Montreal, he's 0-1-1 and he's given up 12 goals on 61 shots -- not exactly Ken Dryden numbers. Varlamov has conversely been money, stopping 93 percent of the shots he's faced.

Boudreau might be influenced by the idea of a mob of Habs' fans chanting, "TAY-OH! TAY-OH!" and how that might affect Theodore. Heck, 22,000 fans doing that at once would make the hairs stand up on anyone's neck -- even a thick-skinned, 33-year-old veteran.

But why shouldn't he get a second chance in Game 3?

Not because Theodore would be the sentimental choice, which he would especially after everything personally and professionally he's gone through this season.

Not because Varlamov has hardly been the Varly of a year ago, when he stoned Sidney Crosby in one of the great playoff saves ever. Even though he got the win on Saturday night in Washington's first overtime playoff victory at home since 1998, the kid gave up three goals after Theodore was pulled (irrespective of whether one of them was directly Mike Green's fault). Varlamov was solid, not spectacular. Starting him for Game 3 is the equivalent of picking the less-cold goalie at the moment.

Starting Theodore should also not happen because Boudreau needs to right a wrong from last season when he didn't go to Theodore in Game 7 against the Penguins until the Capitals trailed 4-0.

It's much simpler than that. It's because Theodore is the goaltender that got the Caps here. It's because Boudreau knows how much the team's success is related to Theodore's play in net.

And why not see if he can carry this team to victory in his old stomping ground, however wrought with emotion that will be for Theodore?

If he can banish his Bell Centre ghosts, he can pretty much banish anything from his conscience. It would be a mistake to further toy with the confidence of a player that the Capitals will need to depend upon again if they are truly going to win the Stanley Cup this season.

"It's pretty much the building where I had the most success, the most shutouts, the most starts, the most wins," Theodore said. "For me, it's a good building. When I'm on the ice in that building, I remember some good memories."

Bottom line, José Theodore was Boudreau's far and away No. 1 goalie just a week ago. After less than one period of not-so-great play between the pipes, have things really changed that much?

© 2010 The Washington Post Company