It took a scintillating performance from a goaltender who isn’t even old enough to drink and a pair of goals from the second best Alex on the team, but the Washington Capitals finally found a way to beat the New York Rangers.
Simeon Varlamov, who was making just his seventh career start and second of the playoffs, couldn’t have been sharper in his inaugural road playoff appearance. The young Russian spent the early part of the first-period turning away shots while the fans at Madison Square Garden showered him with taunting chants.
I suppose the fact that he doesn’t speak a word of English served as a benefit on this night.
Varlamov, who will turn 21 early next week, was brilliant. He slid from one side of the net to the other — making saves with his pads, stick, glove, and body. His athleticism and quickness in the net allowed him to stop all 33 of the shots he faced.
The shutout was just the second by a rookie net-minder in the history of the franchise. It also ended any debate about whether or not Bruce Boudreau had done the right thing by benching Jose Theodore in favor of the younger – and more skilled – Varlamov prior to Washington’s game-two loss at the Verizon Center.
Alexander Semin tallied two opening-period goals — the first 6 minutes and 57 seconds into the game and the second just 4 minutes and 39 seconds later. Alex Ovechkin, who has yet to score in the series, assisted on both goals. So did talented, young center Nicklas Backstrom.
Brooks Laich’s power play stuff-in midway through the second period provided insurance and Tom Poti’s power-play goal with 1:25 to play served as an exclamation point.
Ovechkin didn’t shoot nearly as frequently in the win as he had in the first two games of the series. After registering 19 shots on net and having 17 attempted shots blocked early on in the series, Ovechkin only took five shots in game-three. He still had a major impact.
In addition to assisting on both of Semin’s early lamp-lighters, the reigning NHL MVP raced to catch up with, and then slap the puck away from, Lauri Korpikoski on a short-handed breakaway. Ovechkin laid out while slapping at Korpikoski’s stick, knocking the puck safely towards the boards.
Washington’s sharp-shooter then slid helmet-first into Washington’s net. I was kind of surprised Varlamov didn’t find a way to stop him, too.
The win pulled the Capitals back to within a game of New York (2-1) in the best-of-seven series. More importantly though, it ended any chances of the ‘Caps having to win four straight to get out of the first-round.
Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden a fact that lost some luster on Monday night. Each of the first three games have now been won by the visiting team, a trend Washington will hope continues when the two teams get back on the ice to continue the series.