- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NEW YORK | If the Washington Capitals do defy the long odds and rally to win this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, Nicklas Backstrom’s shift midway through the first period Monday night will be remembered as the turning point.

Backstrom dominated the Rangers at both ends of the ice, helping to set up his team’s first two goals in a 4-0 victory in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden to put the Caps back in the series after they had dropped the first two contests.

Alexander Semin had a pair of goals for the Caps, and rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov made 33 saves for not only his first postseason victory, but his first NHL shutout as well.

With the Caps in front by a goal, New York’s Ryan Callahan had a wide-open net after he collected a rebound near the left goal post. But Backstrom was there to get his stick in the way and force Callahan’s shot off the near post.

Then the 21-year-old center skated the puck to the other end of the ice and, while still possessing it, rocked Callahan with a hit along the left boards. That opened him enough space to one-hand a pass along the wall to Alex Ovechkin, who found Semin cutting to the net for his second goal of the game at 11:36.

In a span of seconds, this game went from surely being tied at 1-1 to a two-goal advantage for the visitors. The sellout crowd, raucous at the start to welcome their team home with a 2-0 series advantage, was never the same — and neither were the Rangers.

Semin put the Caps on the board first 6:57 into the opening period. Backstrom was in the left corner and hit Semin with a perfect pass near the right goal post for an easy one-timer. Seconds before that Semin had a golden opportunity to score when he out-faked goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, but defenseman Dan Girardi was able to keep his shot out of the net.

Semin and Backstrom put together to start the game by Caps coach Bruce Boudreau — just as they were after Game 3 last against Philadelphia last season.

Both responded to the union last year with goals in three straight games (Backstrom tallied in four straight to finish the series), and the pairing was successful again for the Caps, who will try to level this series at two games apiece Wednesday night here.

Brooks Laich made it a three-goal advantage midway through the second period. The middle period was penalty-filled, and Washington took advantage of a power play at 11:29.

Lundqvist stopped Semin’s surge toward the net, but Laich came in right behind him and knocked the puck from his skate to his stick and in for his first of this series.

Backstrom’s final act in his virtuoso performance was a spinning, backhanded pass from the right corner to defenseman Tom Poti near the left post for a layup goal late in the final period.

That was more than enough for the 20-year-old Varlamov, who made his second straight start in net and was flawless.

Varlamov made several quality stops, including a great athletic play to kick out his right leg as he was shifting the other direction on a redirected shot. Since yielding a goal to Ryan Callahan early in Game 2, Varlamov has stopped 55 straight shots.

Still, the biggest save of the night was made by Backstrom.

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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