Mission Possible: Win Four

Caps Head to New York With 2-0 Series Deficit

Coach Bruce Boudreau isn't saying who will start in the net in Game 3: Simeon Varlamov, above, or José Theodore.
Coach Bruce Boudreau isn't saying who will start in the net in Game 3: Simeon Varlamov, above, or José Theodore. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 20, 2009

First, a history lesson, lest the Washington Capitals believe the task they are undertaking is too much to handle. Just three seasons ago, the Carolina Hurricanes dropped the first two games of their opening-round playoff series to the Montreal Canadiens, both at home. The Hurricanes had worked all season to win the Southeast Division, to gain the second seed in the playoffs. Their coach pulled his veteran goalie and replaced him with a rookie. They were desperate, if not quite done.

These Capitals -- the Southeast Division champs who will face the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden, trailing their first-round playoff series two games to none -- face precisely that situation. The fact that Carolina won the next four games against Montreal and went on to take the Stanley Cup does not mean the Capitals will do the same. It only means they can. Coach Bruce Boudreau said he would point out precisely that -- this has been done before, so why not do it again? -- as his team heads to New York.

"To win a series, you have to win four games," forward Brooks Laich said yesterday. "They don't tell you which four. You just have to win any four. I think our guys are still very much alive. I think we're very confident, still."

Indeed, the Capitals are in an odd position as Game 3 approaches. What, exactly, should they change? They have 70 shots in two games; New York has 45. They have allowed, by Boudreau's count, only 13 true scoring chances thus far, and rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov gave up just one goal in Saturday's 1-0 loss. Ask around the locker room, and the Capitals offer versions of the same theme.

Defenseman John Erskine: "We put together two pretty good games."

Forward Matt Bradley: "For the most part, we played the way we wanted to play for two games."

From player to player, there's more of the same. So Boudreau's job: Convince his charges that playing precisely as they have, despite all the positive aspects, will end their season swiftly. There is a balance, the coach said, between continuing with the status quo and making subtle adjustments that might change the results.

"It's pretty evident we've got to play better," Boudreau said. "We're all talking about playing pretty good, but we're down 2-0, so we can't be doing everything right. We got to play better. We got to find different ways."

For the most part, those different ways must come at the offensive end. As good as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been -- and he has been superb, stopping 67 of the 70 shots he has faced in the first two games -- the Capitals can also look to their own recent past to show he's not unbeatable. In beating Lundqvist twice this regular season, and falling to him once in a shootout, Washington managed nine goals against him. In an overtime win at New York in December, they slipped five shots by him.

"We know we can do it," defenseman Mike Green said.

The question, then, is: How? Because open ice is at a premium in the playoffs, the Capitals -- a free-skating team in the regular season -- have put an emphasis on sending forwards to the net in an effort both to screen Lundqvist and collect whatever rebounds he might yield. Indeed, some Capitals are quietly frustrated they haven't pounced on rebounds Lundqvist has allowed.

"They're a good hockey club, but certainly they've allowed goals in the past," Boudreau said. "So we've got to find a way to get them in the future."

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