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Simeon Varlamov's Big Night


Varlamov is the prop to Sean Avery's game misconduct. (Julie Jacobson - AP)


After all his teammates had cleared out of the dressing room, with the team bus scheduled to depart in just a few minutes, Simeon Varlamov ducked his head back in the room. A media staffer gestured him over toward his stall.

"Me?" Varlamov asked, all innocent shock. "I need a translator."

He said this in fairly unaccented English. We all stood around and made small talk, in English, while waiting for a Russian translator. Finally a Russian television journalist was procured. There was a brief pause.

"No questions?" Varlamov deadpanned. In English. Cool customer, this one.

Not just in the dressing room, either. As he was putting the finishing touches on the most important and impressive game of his NHL career, the rookie was given one last memory of his Madison Square Garden debut. Rangers troublemaker Sean Avery parked in front of the Caps' net after a whistle, where he was engaged by Caps defenseman John Erskine. As officials moved the pair away, Avery sent an arm into Varlamov's head.

Welcome to New York, kid.

"He was trying to stir it up," Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but he's trying to stir it up with a guy that doesn't know what he's talking about."

Seriously, don't underestimate his English. In any case, just as he had all night, Varlamov reacted more like an unfazed commuter jostling onto the 1 train than a kid one week shy of his 21st birthday playing hockey in front of 18,000 lunatics. He took off his helmet as Avery was sent to the dressing room for the night. Shaone Morrisonn came over and swatted the rookie affectionately on the pad. Tomas Fleischmann headed over to share a laugh. Varlamov slipped his helmet back on, and completed the first shutout of his NHL career, a 4-0 Game 3 triumph that put the Caps right back in this thing.

"How can the goalie feel after you win in Madison Square Garden without letting any pucks into the goal?" he said through the interpreter. "Very, extremely happy."


(By Bruce Bennett - Getty)

He was beaten cleanly once, saved by Nicklas Backstrom's stick and the post, as Rangers fans stood and cheered an apparent goal. Several other shots glanced off his glove and danced in front of the net until a teammate came to clean up the mess.

Still, the big 0 stuck around on that scoreboard all night. The Caps had recorded just two shutouts this season, both by Jose Theodore, though he didn't face as many shots in either game as Varlamov did last night. The rookie has allowed one goal over his past two games, something the Caps hadn't previously accomplished this season. He made 33 saves, the most of his brief NHL career.

"I know how good he is and how good he can be," fellow Russian Viktor Kozlov said. "Still, against the Rangers, Madison Square Garden? That's a pretty good job."

"He's playing unbelievable," Fleischmann added. "I'm hoping he just keeps up his good work."

Boudreau said Varlamov was informed he'd be the starter this morning, but the coach didn't even tell him, instead passing the duty off to Ovechkin.

"The fact that he doesn't understand a word we're saying probably really helps him," Boudreau quipped after the game. "I told Alex to tell him, so I don't know what he told him. I said just tell him he's playing. The only thing I could do is probably put pressure on him, if I go up and tell him we really need this one, win this one for the Gipper or something. So just tell him he's playing, and let him do his job."

Boudreau dismissed the talk of this pressure being an unbelievable strain on such a young kid, pointing out that Varlamov has had similar moments in the world juniors and the Russian league playoffs. Ovechkin and Fleischmann said the same. Kozlov wasn't so sure.

"No, I think it's a little bit different," Kozlov said. "More intense, more shots, because the Rangers [are] very good opponent. So Varly had a great game today, and we are very happy for him."

The kid said he was more nervous against Montreal in the regular season, and more nervous in Game 2, his first playoff game. He said Avery never got inside his head, that "my main job is to catch the puck, and I was trying to focus on it through the whole game. I know that he can get you out of your balance, and for me it was very important to keep a straight face and really concentrate on the game." He was asked by Mike Wise what he would drink to celebrate, seven days before he turned 21; "tonight, I will drink milk," he responded as he left for the bus.

After it was over, he was mobbed by his teammates. Mike Green and Brooks Laich got there first, with Green sticking his face in Varlamov's mug and keeping it there. Kozlov gave him a fatherly pat on the shoulder. Erskine provided a headbutt. Theodore gave a long embrace, after which Ovechkin rubbed the former starter on the head and then embraced Varly.

"It's very important when you play in the playoffs that the goalie plays his best and the team feels more confident about themselves," Varlamov said. "I understand the value of being valuable for my team."

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 21, 2009; 12:22 AM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Comments

Varly is so good its astonishing. Even if this year's playoffs go bad, he has a bright future and will hopefully be the teams 3rd russian super star.

Varlamov's very relaxed personality is a rare juxtaposition with his explosive playstle and other rambunction russian teammates, and its awesome.

Posted by: breaklance | April 21, 2009 1:26 AM | Report abuse

If Theodore continues to handle this situation well, nurturing Varly and saying the right things both in the locker room, on the bench and through the media, he'll earn lasting respect here no matter where he ends up next. He has Kolzig's precedent as a lesson how not to act.

Posted by: scrappledog | April 21, 2009 2:38 AM | Report abuse

AVERY IS AN IDIOT!!

Posted by: rachel216 | April 21, 2009 6:26 AM | Report abuse

This organization has been fortunate to have some goalies that are as good between the pipes as they are to each other.

Posted by: sitruc | April 21, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

JT is handling this with class. As upset as I was with his play, I gotta give him his props. Team first.

Posted by: VeloStrummer | April 21, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

As much of a supporter am I of JT, I knew Varly was the future for the last 2 years since he was drafted.

JT was just keeping the seat warm. I just didn't think it would be relinquished so quickly.

Posted by: Rocc00 | April 21, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

This is 2006 all over again. Team wearing red loses first two home games. Goes on road, switches to rookie goalie. Team never looks back.

The Age of Varlamov has begun. And none too soon. Great game by all, including the refs, who were flawless.

Posted by: bucknelldad | April 21, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

If Theodore continues to handle this situation well, nurturing Varly and saying the right things both in the locker room, on the bench and through the media, he'll earn lasting respect here no matter where he ends up next. He has Kolzig's precedent as a lesson how not to act.

Posted by: scrappledog | April 21, 2009 2:38 AM


As someone who has watched the Avs for a long time, I think you don't need to worry too much about Theodore on this point. For the long stretches of time he was riding the bench in Colorado before regaining his confidence, he was a class act as a teammate. Unless something dramatically changes, I would expect him to do everything he can to help and support Varlamov.

bucknelldad,
Good luck, and hope it works out. But expect some bumps along the way unless Varlamov proves to be exceptional (Roy, Brodeur). Even after winning the Conn Smythe, it took a couple of years for Cam to really settle into the starting role.

Go Canes! (sorry, I had to. But I'll root for the Caps if the Canes fall...)

Posted by: J-NC | April 21, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Rewind the tape (out there on the youtubes) - first Varly pulled a Crosby on Avery, then he pulled an Avery on Avery - savvy vet move by a milk-drinking kid...

Posted by: jhorstma | April 21, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

This is for "breaklance"...

You said, "Varly is so good its astonishing. Even if this year's playoffs go bad, he has a bright future and will hopefully be the teams 3rd russian super star."

My question is, who are the other two Russian "superstars"???

You got Ovechkin who wouldn't be scoring as much if the puck didn't get fed to him.

Compare his Shots On Goal to someone like Malkin or Crosby. Ovechkin played approximately (within 3) as many games as Malkin and Crosby but had more than double Crosby's SOG and 238 more SOGs than Malkin...leaving OV in the rear of the pack for shooting % (Malkin = 12.1%, Crosby = 13.9%, and OV = 10.6%).

Superstar???? I think you use that term a bit loosely.

Go Pens!!!!!!!

Posted by: travlinsam | April 21, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

travlinsam - Try to keep your stupidity more well-hidden in the future. Or confine it to a Pens forum where it will be the norm.

Posted by: jason2smith | April 21, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

And I think you're just a hating Pen's fanboi.

"100% of the shots you don't take, don't go in" - Wayne Gretzky

Ask the players if they give 2 damn about shot percentage. All that matters is winning.

Posted by: alecw81 | April 21, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Great comeback "jason2smith"...are you one of these new "Caps fans" that have jumped on the bandwagon of a few wins over the past couple of years or can you say that you've been a diehard fan that actually followed the Caps when they didn't have a winning season?

"Puck The Red"

Posted by: travlinsam | April 21, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

@travelinsam

Are you really that uneducated about hockey that you don't realize that wings are supposed to shoot more than pass and centers are supposed to pass more than shoot. A center is supposed to feed the wings. So the alleged disparity in shots between centers and wings is not unexpected. And since Ovechkin's goals vs assists were 60-40 this year that is pretty good ratio for a wing. Malkin got as many points as he did this year because there are 2 chances to get an assist for every goal scored. And maybe if Malkin and Crosby had shot more during the season they might have been farther up the food chain in the playoffs. Go Flyers!

Posted by: Varly | April 21, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

@travs - I can certainly understand a good Pens fan rooting for Crosby and Malkin (Malkin's better, btw), but your hockey ignorance is showing - SOG are an indicator of how involved a player is, and in hockey are usually a very good thing. You only care if a guy does not shoot enough, as it generally means he's not involved in the play offensively - obviously except for the first-rate, pass-first gems like Forsberg, Backstrom, Malkin, and yes, I'll admit Crosby (even though all of the above can score when needed, I'd argue their true value lies in making those around them better; certainly OV does as well, just in different ways).

Now if you want to nail Gilbert Arenas for being a chuck-first point guard, by all means, be my guest - just leave Ovechkin alone, hockey ain't hoops, my friend, and Ovie ain't a point guard.

Posted by: govtimbo | April 21, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Varly is poised. Very cool under pressure. He was beat a couple times, but luck be had, the puck never saw the back of the net. Lets hope they can keep this up. You knew they would come out tonight with a do or die mentality. They can't let up. Take it to NY!

Posted by: oneft2dice | April 21, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

travlinsam - Not that it has anything to do with the inanity of your comment, but I wear an Oates jersey and went to my first game in 1978.

Posted by: jason2smith | April 21, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"Great comeback "jason2smith"...are you one of these new "Caps fans" that have jumped on the bandwagon of a few wins over the past couple of years or can you say that you've been a diehard fan that actually followed the Caps when they didn't have a winning season?

"Puck The Red""

Wasn't Pittsburgh about to fold or even leave because of attendance? Then the team tanked on purpose so it could pick Crosby. I can assure you if the CAPS WIN A CUP OR HAD WON cups like the Pens that would never happen here


Posted by: JDB1 | April 21, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

JDB1

Wow...scratch the surface and it's amazing what an amazing "red" welt appears.

Pens leaving Pittsburgh...didn't happen...read up a little about it and you'll find you err in your writing. It was the Penguins ownership that was at an impasse with the city/state over a new arena...not a lack of fans. Mellon Arena (formerly the Civic Arena...the world's first major indoor sports arena) was built in 1961 and lacked the amenities that other arenas have that their fans expect. Add that to the antiquated ice making capabilities (just ask players in the NHL...they hate the ice there)there was good reason for the threat to leave the burgh.

Hah...DC fans loyal? So loyal that a team would never leave? The Washington Senators left town twice...(Minnesota Twins & Texas Rangers)...so with the Caps...never say never.

Besides...you have more fans for other teams here than anywhere else I've ever been...a prime example was the past couple of years at Caps games...you saw more visitor fans jerseys than you did Caps.

Posted by: travlinsam | April 21, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Don't have to worry about opposing fans in Pittsburgh; who would EVER want to go to that dump unless they had to?

Posted by: jason2smith | April 21, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

travlinsam: of course DC has many fans for many other teams, it's the most powerful city in the world, and our employment opportunities draw people from all over the country here.

The Crosby/Ovechkin/Malkin debate is retarded, the only good that comes from it is passion for the NHL. They're all very talented young players, and very different. You could argue Malkins huge point lead is the result of getting assists because his teammates poked in rebounds from his shots. Crosby is an excellent puck mover, but he's not the only one in the league who creates highlight reel assists, he's just the only one the NHL put all their stock in to anoint as the next great one.

People knock Ov for taking too many shots, and not being a team player. In regard to shots, have you ever heard of the law of diminishing returns? And as far as not being a team player that makes the team around him better, why do you think semin and backstrom play so well in the playoffs together? Ov's talent and energy draw out, and wear out the other teams best blue line. That goes a pretty far way towards making your team better in my opinion.

Enjoy all the fanboy bickering, they're all great players, and we're lucky to be enjoying them in their prime.

Posted by: GKINMD | April 21, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

"GKINMD"
Yeah...the OV - Crosby - Malkin debate is retarded, but it's fun to get the Caps fans all spun up. You are right...a passion for the sport is fantastic...whether you are a Caps fan, Pens, Red Wings, etc...it's all good. I'm glad to see one respondent that is able to look above the diatribe that I got spinning...good on you!

------
"jason2smith"

It sounds like you've never been to Pittsburgh...come visit sometime and you might change your mind. What you will find is a very passionate fan base whether it's for the Steelers (can you say "SIX"?), the Penguins, and the Pirates. Travel around this great country of ours and I'd bet any sum of money that you'll see more Pittsburgh fans (even those who have never visited The Burgh) than any other fan base...granted, you will see a lot of Dallas and NY fans as well.

As far as DC...I've lived all around the world. I was born in Virginia and raised in the Pittsburgh area. It's great to be in a place that has all the major sports teams available to go and see...fan of local teams or not. What's great, is that we are Americans that have this genre to be fans of...in the end, be proud of whatever team you support. Pay a little respect to opposing fans...rib them a little, but in the end, they're just like you...passionate about their teams.

Posted by: travlinsam | April 22, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

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