He has six games of NHL experience, but Simeon Varlamov is about to begin the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs as the backup goaltender for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said Brent Johnson is “not close” to returning from hip surgery, so Varlamov will be at the end of the bench Wednesday night in Game 1 against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.
Varlamov has excelled in his limited exposure at this level. The 20-year-old is 4-0-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. He has yielded more than two goals in only one of his five starts.
“He’s not a kid,” Viktor Kozlov said. “He was a goalie for the Russian national team. He was the first goalie for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl when they play in the [Russian Super League] finals last year. He is not young - he is mature. I am not surprised. The way he is practicing and the way he is playing - this is who he is.”
Johnson went to Nashville on Thursday and met with the doctor who performed his hip surgery. He was told not to participate in full practices for another week or two, depending on how the hip feels.
For now, Johnson is getting in as much on-ice work as he can near the end of practices while trying to avoid setbacks.
“I don’t have a return time in mind,” Johnson said. “I just keep telling myself, ‘I’m not going to have the wrong mental attitude, because nothing on Earth will help me if I do.’ ”
While the Rangers boasted the NHL’s top penalty-killing percentage in the regular season, their power play was at the other end of the rankings. New York finished the year 29th in the league at 13.7 percent.
The Rangers have plenty of top offensive players, which makes their inability to score with the extra man startling. Meanwhile, the Caps have improved their penalty killing in the final months of the season after once going 13 straight games allowing an extra-man marker.
“They have a lot of talent on their power play,” Caps defenseman Tom Poti said. “They’ve got guys that can shoot, guys that can skate the puck into the zone and guys that can make plays in front. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been clicking for them, but we’re still going to have to do a good job on our end to shut them down and help win the series.”
Forwards Donald Brashear and Boyd Gordon pronounced themselves ready to play Wednesday. Brashear said his sprained knee has handled two days of full-contact practices well, and he has no reservations.
Gordon, who is returning from a broken finger, doesn’t consider himself injured anymore.
“I’m not injured. How does what feel?” Gordon said with a smirk. “I feel good, and it feels good to get my legs under me a little bit and adjust to the speed of things, handle the puck a little more.”
Poti missed three games trying to rest his oft-injured groin and wasn’t ready to commit to a return to the lineup against the Rangers.
“It is a decision we’re going to make tomorrow,” Poti said. “It is the playoffs, so that does help me lean one way.”
Captain Chris Clark said he is on schedule to return during the second round of the playoffs from wrist surgery. Clark, who hasn’t played in a game since Jan. 27, has practiced with the team this week in a blue jersey reserved for injured players. He hopes to wear a normal sweater by next week and be cleared to return to the lineup by the end of the month.
• Corey Masisak can be reached at email@example.com.
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