Jose Theodore may yet redeem himself this postseason — perhaps as early as tonight, in game 3 — but his getting yanked yet again before the Capitals could complete a playoff-opening homestand is a highpoint in the horror that has been the hallmark of his career: staggering and mystifying inconsistency. Theodore was rock solid in game 1 last Thursday, a seeming continuation of his stellar regular season effort (including a torrid 20-0-3 heading into the postseason). The Capitals lost in overtime, but Theodore hardly could be faulted. Then on Saturday night, in a virtual must-win game for the Caps, he missed on Montreal’s first two shots of the game, with his Capitals’ teammates applying heavy pressure at the other end.
There’s little point in fingering blame at the Capitals’ top defensive pair of Mike Green and Jeff Schultz for their part in the deficit. Bottom line: Theodore had to set a tone in a desperation hockey game, and he failed. Again. For the second consecutive postseason Bruce Boudreau had to yank his no. 1 netminder at the dawning of an opening series, for less-than-stellar play.
Compounding the frustration with Theodore is the likelihood that he doesn’t even need to play brilliantly in order for the Capitals to enjoy a lengthy postseason run this spring: he just needs to be solid-to-strong over the course of a long series, and his offensively gifted teammates will take care of the rest. That means not whiffing on the first handful of shots he faces in a game. Theodore may get the call Monday night, in the thoroughly hostile environs of Bell Centre, but it’s clear that Montreal won’t be intimidated by him.
Then again, after putting a half dozen pucks by Jaroslav Halak Saturday, the Caps won’t much be intimidated by Montreal’s no.1. This is a series unique in its offering the very real potential of having four goaltenders seeing significant playing time. If there is one netminder who seemingly could stake a claim to swagger in the crease, it’d be Semyon Varlamov. Varly made his NHL debut in Montreal on December 12, 2008, stopping 31 of 32 shots, becoming the first goalie to win his debut in Montreal in more than 30 years. Prior to Saturday night Varly had two starts against the Habs and won both, boasting a 1.94 goals-against and a .930 save percentage. Quite simply, the Habs haven’t beaten him. You would have to think that should Jose Theodore start tonight he’d not only have to perform solidly but the Capitals would have to prevail for him to keep his job — Varly’s success versus Montreal, and his savior’s role versus the Rangers in last April’s opening series, would argue well for his getting the reliever’s call.
All season long I’ve been a press box audience to this line of thinking articulated by media local and out-of-town: the Caps appear to play harder for Semyon Varlamov. The Capitals however played very hard in front of Theodore at the start of this series, particularly its opening 20 minutes. They just didn’t get the results. Boudreau’s decision on a starting netminder tonight is easily the most interesting and intriguing of his NHL career. It’s one he most certainly wanted to avoid having to make so early this postseason, but Jose Theodore again has placed his coach in the position of having to make it.
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Just how epic was Saturday night’s stirring and heart-stopping comeback in Capitals’ lore? Was it anywhere near as impressive as the Caps’ overcoming a 3-0 deficit at home in game 7 against the Flyers in 1988? The Caps under the leadership of Rod Langway and Dale Hunter had more game time left with which to mount their comeback that night. Then again, the stakes were a lot higher that night. And that Flyers’ club was certainly better than this Habs’ one. Still, clawing back and triumphing from three down with barely more than a period to play merits inclusion among the organization’s all-time postseason performances. Certainly the league’s American broadcast partners took notice yesterday, with both NBC and Versus lavishing love on the Caps for their Saturday night heroics.
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Speaking of heroes, I really dig the nickname Captain America for John Carlson. Really dig it.
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Dateline, Southern Virginia Marriott Hotel, some 120 miles from Washington, Saturday night: at the hotel sportsbar named T-Miller’s, myriad televisions beamed a spring Saturday evening’s sporting fare, including the opening of the NBA playoffs and a remarkable test of bullpen arms’ endurance between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets, which didn’t see its first run of the game scored until the 19th inning. At puckdrop between the Caps and Habs near 7:00 the bar was sparsely populated, and a lone TV screen behind the bar carried the action.
The game didn’t draw a heck of a lot of notice given its seeming blowout formation in the second period, but there were a few red-clad enthusiasts following, and when Nicklas Backstrom scored deep in the second stanza to close the gap to 4-2, a few rowdy cheers rose over the murmurs of the hoops and diamond partisans.
Then a wedding reception at the hotel let out, near 9:00 — an open bar gathering clearly — and the bar suddenly was swarmed with well-dressed revelers. All of them, it seemed, had one game inspiring their formation in the tavern: hockey. Caps’ hockey. A fiery middle-aged woman not the mother of the bride began working her way from table to table, surveying patrons’ preference for the big-screened television affixed to a central wall. It was at that moment showcasing game 1 of the Celtics and Miami Heat. Actually, it wasn’t a single TV screen but an amalgam of smaller screens that formed a fun and impressive broadcast glow over the majority of the sprawling wall.
This woman was on a mission. She wasn’t having any NBA on at this hour, but being in possession of southern grace, she made sure first that the house was in majority support of her position. Darned if she didn’t get that wall beaming the game from Verizon Center beginning with period three. And when John Carlson tied it up with little more than a minute left serious beauties from the bride’s party bestowed kisses on stranger men throughout the bar — and leading chants of ‘C-A-P-S CAPS!CAPS!CAPS!”
Times are a-changin.