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Unsettled goaltending situation shifts sides

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MONTREAL | Heading into their first-round matchup with Montreal, may pundits thought that goaltending could decide the series.

Well, it has, in a strange way, as both teams have now yanked their starting goalie at least once during the three games, raising questions on both sides about which netminder gives their team the best chance to win.

Jose Theodore, who started Games 1 and 2 for Washington, was pulled in the first period, as Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said it was to try and swing momentum Washington's way. Eventually it did, as the Capitals grabbed a wild 6-5 overtime win.

And while Theodore's rough start Saturday raised some alarms in the nation's capital, Montreal's starting netminder for the series also had the sting of being pulled in front of his home fans Monday.

After a bad start to the second period, Jacques Martin yanked Jaroslav Halak for the same reason Boudreau cited for his move Saturday, but Montreal didn't respond and fell behind in the series 2-1.

Carey Price, who played all four games against the Capitals in the regular season but lost his starting job with poor play down the stretch, was decent, but still couldn't prevent Alexander Ovechkin's second-period tally which really put the game out of reach with a 4-0 Washington lead.

"We tried to change the rhythm of the game and get the momentum back," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "There was no message to Jaroslav."

For his part, Varlamov was excellent in the first period, keeping the Canadiens off the scoreboard despite a strong opening 20 minutes and allowing Washington to seize momentum in the opening minutes of the second.

"He was really good early," Boudreau said. "He made two big saves. The one on [Brian] Gionta, on their penalty kill was a really big save and there was another one somewhere in the first period that I thought was very solid. He was very solid in net tonight and he kept us in [the game]."

Looking forward, there will be some question if Halak or Price start a virtual must-win for Montreal Wednesday in Game 4, despite not naming his start, Boudreau certainly indicated Varlamov would get another chance to play.

And, for now, in this strange series, the question of goaltending is squarely surrounding the Montreal locker room, while the once uncertain Washington situation is settled -- for now.