- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 14, 2009

When this postseason began, Simeon Varlamov was happy just to be on an NHL roster.

Now the 21-year-old is a household name among Washington Capitals fans for helping the team into the second round of the playoffs, but this was far from the ending he might have hoped for.

“It’s tough - he played great and should have nothing to be discouraged about,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “He’s been our superhero in this series and in the past one.”

Varlamov allowed four goals on 18 shots Wednesday night, and was sent to the bench just 2:13 into the second period. After being tabbed as the starter for Game 2 in the first round against the New York Rangers, Varlamov became one of the biggest surprises of these Stanley Cup playoffs.

His final numbers (7-6 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage) don’t portray what his value to the Caps has been in the past month.

“He showed us he’s going to be a great goalie for a long time,” defenseman Tom Poti said. “He played unbelievable. He’s the reason we are in this point and in the Game 7. He’s an amazing goalie and amazing young kid, and we are happy to have him on our side.”

Gonchar returns

Following a two-game absence with a lower body injury, Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar played in Game 7, logging more than 15 minutes of ice time and creating the game’s first goal.

Gonchar was injured on a hit by Caps forward Alex Ovechkin early in Game 4. He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday morning and showed enough to be reinserted in the lineup.

“Gonch showed a lot of guts tonight,” forward Craig Adams said. “I don’t know how he felt, but I assume he wasn’t 100 percent. On the power play, he’s so good out there and even if he hadn’t played any shifts beyond that first power play, giving us that first goal would have been a big boost.”

During the postgame handshakes, Ovechkin spent several moments talking to Gonchar.

“He said there was no chance he could have avoided it,” Gonchar said of the hit.

Stars played hurt

When the Caps reconvene Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, there likely will be plenty of details about which players were playing through pain during back-to-back seven-game series against New York and Pittsburgh.

After Game 7, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau did not want to blame injuries for his team’s problems in the loss. He did confirm that both Ovechkin and top defenseman Mike Green were playing hurt.

Green took only one shift in the third period and was a team-worst minus-3.

“He wasn’t very good,” Boudreau said. “As great a player as he is, he really struggled tonight. I know Mike really well. When he struggles, he puts a lot of pressure on himself to do something better.”

Ovechkin did have one of his team’s two goals and finished the series with eight markers and 14 points.

“His play is what it was - it was magnificent,” Boudreau said. “He’s another one that if this was the regular season he wouldn’t be playing. You want to know how good he is? That’s how good he is.”

Missed early chance

Three minutes into the game, Ovechkin had a golden opportunity to stake the Caps to a 1-0 lead, but his breakaway shot was snared by Marc-Andre Fleury.

Center Nicklas Backstrom picked up a loose puck in the Caps’ zone, and his pass up ice got behind Penguins defenseman Hal Gill. Ovechkin corralled hit and flew down the right side.

“In this series, he got some goals but I saw him coming down and he was coming pretty quick,” Fleury said.

Ovechkin didn’t get on the board until the Caps trailed 5-0.

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