After losing 4-3 to the 7th-seeded Rangers in the first game of the playoffs, Caps HC Bruce Boudreau made a bold move by throwing in the 20-year-old Russian rookie Simeon Varlamov for Game 2. But that gutsy decision has paid huge dividends for a franchise that faced criticisms from everyone for signing Jose Theodore rather than re-signing Cristobal Huet. The Caps have won 6 of 8 with ‘Varly’ in net, and find themselves in great position against the high-powered Penguins. Right now, this team looks like it very well could be the representatives from the East by winning 5 straight… but all of this would’ve never happened without that rookie netminder that is ‘just having fun’.
When Washington shut out the Rangers in a must-win Game 3, in my head I instantly drew comparisons to Cam Ward’s situation with Carolina in 2006. That year the ‘Canes were also the 2-seed in the conference, and fell down 0-2 in their series with the Canadiens. In Game 2 of that series, ex-coach Peter Laviolette pulled Martin Gerber in the 1st period and inserted the then-22-year-old Ward. Ward had more experience in the regular season than Varlamov did this year, but Ward was very inconsistent down the stretch. But who would’ve guessed 2 months later that ‘Wardo’ would be going to center-ice to fetch the Conn Smythe?? Like Varlamov, Ward was ‘just having fun’ and wasn’t fazed by the pressure that was on him. He went 15-8 with a 2.14 GAA during that Cup run for the ‘Canes.
Now I’m not saying Varlamov will be the Conn Smythe winner for the Cup-winning Capitals. They’re not even half-way to 16 wins, so there’s a lot of hockey to be played. But you can start making some comparisons. ‘Varly’ only played in 6 regular season games, going 4-0-1. The cat doesn’t know any better than to just go out and play hockey. Heck, I don’t even know if he can speak English! IMO, he’s the story of the playoffs so far. This goalie with Hershey Bears-colored equipment certainly saved the Caps’ season in round one, and now could lead them to the promise land!
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