For two days, Bruce Boudreau dodged questions about his starting goaltender for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. He used phrases like “Jose [Theodore] is my guy” and “[Theodore] is our No. 1 goalie.”
What he didn’t say was that Theodore would start for the Washington Capitals on Saturday at Verizon Center. As it turned out, he didn’t. In a surprising move, Boudreau tabbed 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov instead.
“I thought he played well,” Boudreau said. “I made the decision, and I stuck by it. That’s the end of it.”
Varlamov yielded a goal on the first shot by a New York Rangers player in the offensive zone, but he didn’t get beat again. He finished with 23 saves, but the Caps couldn’t offer him any offensive support in a 1-0 defeat.
The Samara, Russia, native had only six games of NHL experience - and just 27 at the American Hockey League level - but he proved capable when it counted for the Caps.
“It is normal for a goalie to be nervous before a game, so yeah, I was nervous,” Varlamov said through an interpreter. “It was not really that bad - not like it was in Montreal for NHL debut when my hands were shaking.”
Boudreau said he would talk with his coaching staff before deciding on who the team’s netminder would be in Game 3. Theodore gave up four goals on 21 shots in the team’s Game 1 loss, and Boudreau said he was “very professional” when given the news of the switch.
“After the warm-up, [Theodore] came over to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about - I was 20 years old when I played my first [playoff] game in Montreal,’ and ‘Don’t worry about it - I think you will be fine,’ ” Varlamov said.
Callahan emerges for Rangers
Forward Ryan Callahan continued to impress the Rangers on Saturday, scoring the team’s only goal when he lifted a crossing pass from Markus Naslund over Varlamov’s glove in the first period. He also shadowed Alex Ovechkin much of the day, blocking two shots and choking off much of the room Ovechkin had to work.
It’s just the latest sign of progress for the 24-year-old forward, who is in his second full NHL season. He scored 40 points in the regular season, leading the team with 16 points after the March trade deadline.
Working on a line with Naslund and Chris Drury on Saturday, he showed how he’s improving at both ends of the ice.
“He’s a guy that it’s exciting for the organization as to how he’s growing,” coach John Tortorella said. “This is a young man without a whole bunch of playoff experience. That’s what defines a player in these types of situations - not just the goal, but the other little things he’s doing. He’s an important guy for us at such a young age.”
War of words continues
Tortorella wasn’t happy with his team’s performance in the faceoff circle in Game 1, but he also questioned the legality of Washington’s tactics Friday. When Boudreau was asked before the game Saturday about Tortorella’s claims, he didn’t hold back his displeasure.
“They won the game, and all he did was cry about the two things we won about - faceoffs and a penalty,” Boudreau said. “He’s playing the whole game and it is actually pretty lame, quite frankly. He’s talking about Nicky Backstrom, who was 48 percent this year and one of the worst centerman the first half of the year in faceoffs altogether. We went in and talked to the league, and the league said they were perfectly legal, so he is just crying right now. It is a pretty dumb thing to be crying about.
“I haven’t said nothing except for responding [to Tortorella]. We were told not to do this, but he is trying to play the gamesmanship and get the referees on his side. That’s fine. They’ll probably do better on faceoffs [Saturday]. What am I supposed to do? Cry? We never had 70 percent on faceoffs all year, so we had one good day on faceoffs.”