Surprise Starter – Just prior to this time last year, Caps goaltender Simeon Varlamov was spending the waning days of his teenage years backstopping Yaroslavl of the Russian Super League to within a game of the league title. Varlamov fashioned a 1.62 GAA and five shutouts in 16 playoff games last spring.
Today, nine days shy of his 21st birthday, Varlamov was installed as the Washington starter for Game 2 of the Caps’ Eastern Conference Semifinal Series against the New York Rangers.
Varlamov played well, but New York’s Ryan Callahan capitalized on an early Washington mistake -- a turnover at the opposing blueline -- to score the game’s only goal at 7:44 of the first period. The Caps went on to a 1-0 loss and are now in an 0-2 hole as the series shifts to New York’s Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Monday night.
Washington’s Game 1 starter Jose Theodore was given Saturday off after surrendering four goals on 21 shots in Wednesday’s 4-3 Game 1 loss.
Varlamov (six career regular season NHL games played) had the least regular-season experience of a starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs since Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff (five games played for San Jose in 2001). Varlamov became just the fourth rookie goaltender to start a playoff game for Washington, joining Bob Mason, Byron Dafoe and Jim Carey.
They Don’t Call Him King For Nothing – Along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York is one of just two of the 16 NHL playoff teams this spring that allowed more goals than it scored during the regular season. That anomaly is more an indictment of the Rangers’ offense than anything to do with the performance of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has won 30 or more games in each of his four NHL seasons and who won a career high 43 games in 2008-09.
Three springs ago. Lundqvist struggled in his first taste of the NHL postseason. He was 0-3 in three starts against the Devils in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Since then, he has been a first-round stud for the Rangers. Including Saturday’s shutout win over Washington, Lundqvist is 10-1 with a 1.89 GAA and a .933 save pct. Lundqvist has now authored two first-round shutouts.
Missing the Mark – For the second straight game the Capitals dealt in offensive volume, but they may be trafficking too much in quantity and not enough in quality.
In Wednesday’s Game 1, the Caps launched 72 shots on goal to New York’s 48, but only 35 Capital shots went on goal while the Rangers got 21 shots on net. The rest were either blocked in front or missed the mark altogether.
Saturday brought more of the same. The Capitals outgunned New York 88-48 in pure shots, and now lead 160-96 in the series in that category. Washington had 35 shots on goal in Saturday’s game. It also had 29 shots blocked and 24 more that missed the net.
Wrap It Up, I’ll Take It – Washington found itself in a giving mood on Saturday. The stat sheet shows the Caps with 24 giveaways in the game to just seven for New York.
Green (seven giveaways) and Ovechkin (five) accounted for half of Washington’s team total in that department.
Washington had 11 giveaways to just five for New York in Wednesday’s Game 1.
Faulty Firsts – First period success was one of the hallmarks of the Capitals team that set a franchise record with 108 points and matched a franchise mark with 50 wins during the regular season.
The Caps scored 86 first period goals during the 2008-09 regular season, second most in the league and just one off the lead. Washington roared out to an 18-1-1 record in its first 20 home games. The Capitals scored at least one first period goal in 17 of those 20 games, and frequently used the formula of an early lead to grab a chokehold on the game and finish off an opponent.
Washington had had two good first periods in this series, but has nothing to show for it. Despite outshooting the Rangers by a combined 27-10 in the first period of the first two games of this series, the Caps have yet to notch a first period goal.
Déjà Vu – The last time the Caps were shutout in the postseason was also in Game 2 of an opening round series. That was on April 13, 2008 when Philadelphia’s Martin Biron administered the whitewash to Washington.
Lundqvist’s shutout on Saturday was the 10th all-time against the Caps. It is the first ever 1-0 playoff shutout against Washington,
A Goal Shy – Washington has now lost 11 of the last 15 one-goal games it has played in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Odds Say – Game 2 is a pivotal contest in best-of-seven playoff series, even more so than Game 1. According to the NHL, teams that win Game 1 go on to win that series 69.1 percent of the time, while teams that win Game 2 go on to claim the series 71.8 percent of the time.
Washington has been down 2-0 in four previous playoff series in its star-crossed postseason history. It has gone on to get swept in two of those series and was bounced in five games on the other two occasions.
The Capitals themselves have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead four times in their playoff history, winning just one of those four series. In two of the three series losses, the Caps won the first two games on the road – as the Rangers have done in this series – before going on to lose four straight games and the series.
Six springs ago, the Caps took the first two games of their opening round series with the Lightning on the road in Tampa Bay, but lost the next four. Rangers bench boss John Tortorella was the coach of that Lightning team.
Bravo! – It’s not often the zebras get a standing ovation from a sellout crowd in an NHL building, but that’s what happened to day at the Phone Booth. The occasion? New York was finally whistled for its first infraction of the afternoon in the contest’s 37th minute. That hooking minor on Blueshirts defenseman Michal Rozsival came only after New York had enjoyed four straight power plays of its own.
Pothier in Postseason – Caps defenseman Brian Pothier was back in the lineup for Saturday’s Game 2, replacing blueliner Jeff Schultz, who is sidelined with an upper body injury and is currently listed as day-to-day.
Saturday’s game was the first NHL playoff game in a Washington uniform for Pothier, who logged 15:46 on the afternoon.
Game 2 marked Pothier’s first NHL postseason action since May 13, 2006 when he was with the Ottawa Senators. Pothier scored a goal in each of his last two playoff games as a member of the Senators.