Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Varlamov, The Magician

The Circus was just in town at Madison Square Garden. They forgot their magician. Simeon Varlamov was spectacular in only his second playoff start getting both the win and a shutout. He did it with a bit of slight of hand, misdirection, and pure quickness. No smoke, no mirrors. Now you see an open net, now you don't.

"We had great goaltending by Varly, it starts there," Caps' defenseman John Erskine said. "(It) gives us confidence, our forwards are coming back and helping us out. We're getting the breaks."

The two early goals also helped out. The Rangers had the lead or tie for nearly 5 periods of play before last night's tilt. By scoring a pair in the first period, the Capitals finally put the pressure on the Rangers in Game 3.

"(Varlamov) played well last game, we just didn't score any goals for him," Caps' forward Brooks Laich said. "We get the first goal, which was nice; but then we get the second one, which now makes them press a little bit more. Then we play sound defensively."

Sounds simple. Everyone seemed to enjoy Varlamov's show, except the New York Rangers and their fans. That frustration boiled over to the scoresheet as the Rangers took eight minor penalties and Sean Avery received a game misconduct and escorted off the ice. The Rangers had a hard time keeping their composure, but with shots disappearing into Varlamov's glove, it was easy to see why.

"I'm not going to whine about penalties," Torts replied. "We stunk. Simple."

While the Rangers were not composed, Varlamov was. Just like a magician setting up the act; he was calm, cool and collect between the pipes for the Capitals. The Caps rallied around their young goaltender who has the Caps' farm team on one half of his mask and the Caps logo on the other. With the type of composure the young goaltender showed, maybe it is time to lose the bear.

"I was more nervous starting in Montreal," Varlamov said through an interpreter when he was asked if he was nervous about starting at MSG. "Today was not as bad."

The rookie goaltender stopped all 33 shots his way. Varlamov made some dynamite saves, a few of them at point blank range. When Nik Zherdev seemed to have an open net when a arrant pass landed on his stick, there was Varlamov in position. He tried to deke around him and Varly shot out his left pad to make the save. Now you see a goal, now you don't.

Varlamov also got a lot of help from his lovely assistants (eh-em, teammates). Alex Ovechkin had to hot foot it back to swipe away a break away chance by the Rangers. Besides a rebound that came to an open Ryan Callahan who hit the post (some sort of telekinetic power to keep the puck out), most rebounds came right to a Capitals' stick, magically. That usually means that the team is playing well in front of their goaltender.

"I thought they played very well defensively, and I thought we stunk defensively. That was the key to the game," Tortorella said. "They defended really well in front of their net. We were chasing our tail all night long, spinning and watching the puck."

Varly's act drew plenty of attention from the Rangers' heckler (agitator) in Game 3. Avery, doing what he does best, tried to get into Varly's grill and chirp. It is kind of hard when the goaltender does not know English all that well. But when asked about the encounter after the game, Varlamov just shook it off.

"My main job is to catch the puck," Varly replied. "I was trying to focus on the game."

"I have no idea," a coy Erskine replied when asked what Avery was saying to Varlamov before he cheap shot him. "He was just yipping and being Sean Avery." Erskine was also asked about the punch Avery gave him early in the second period. "It wasn't the hardest punch by Sean Avery," Erskine deadpanned.

Varlamov earned the red hard hat following the game and the game's number one star. We can't wait to see the second show, Varlamov the Magnificent.

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