Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves en route to his third career playoff shutout. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Twitter summary of Game 2 between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals could go something like this:
Bruce Boudreau was bold, but Henrik Lundqvist was bolder.
That’s why, after the game was over, the Capitals coach was figuring out how to overcome a second straight loss to the Blueshirts – 1-0, as was the case Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center – and why Lundqvist and his teammates were headed home to Manhattan with the possibility of sweeping the Caps from their first round series.
Boudreau, a rambler and a gambler (and perhaps even a sweet-talking ladies’ man) if there ever was one, defied conventional wisdom and sat No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore in favor of 20-year-old rookie Simeon Varlamov.
The young Russian, selected by Washington in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2006 NHL draft, responded to the challenge by stopping 23 of 24 Rangers shots.
That type of performance would have secured the Caps Game 1 of the series (which they lost 4-3 thanks to Theodore’s shoddy netminding) – but against a rapidly crystallizing legend like the one Lundqvist is building for himself, it wasn’t enough when it really mattered.
Lundqvist was marvelous for the Rangers all afternoon long, stopping all 35 Washington shots and receiving the kind of good luck – courtesy of the posts and crossbar behind him – that all great goalies earn through sensational showings.
It was Lundqvist, and not necessarily any great play from his teammates in front of him, who frustrated Capitals star forwards Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom over and over. The Caps were not shy about testing the Swede, firing shots at him from everywhere and also digging at Lundqvist from close range.
It all failed – and now Washington goes on the road down 2-0 in the series. Varlamov deserves to start Game 3, but if he can’t be absolutely perfect, the Capitals are going to have to discover a way to adapt on the fly, the same way their coach did to give them a chance to win Game 2.
If that’s too tall an order – and if Lundqvist keeps sizzling – warm up the brooms.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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