WASHINGTON — For all of the intrigue surrounding whether the Washington Capitals would switch goalies — they did, going with a barely used rookie — Alex Ovechkin summed up rather simply why the New York Rangers won Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
“If you don’t score,” the NHL’s goal leader the past two seasons said, “you lose the game.”
Henrik Lundqvist made 35 saves for his third career playoff shutout, and Ryan Callahan spoiled Simeon Varlamov’s surprising NHL post-season debut by scoring on New York’s second shot Saturday, giving the Rangers a 1-0 victory over the Capitals.
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 2-0, with Game 3 in New York on Monday.
“We’re not trying to be pretty,” said Rangers captain Chris Drury, who played after sitting out Game 1. “We just want to win. This time of year, that’s all that matters.”
Led by Ovechkin, and other high-scoring players such as Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green, the second-seeded Capitals came into the series as the favoured — and flashier — team. But the seventh-seeded Rangers, led by Lundqvist and teammates who keep blocking shots, have been solid.
“They’re going to make plays. They’re going to get chances,” New York’s Scott Gomez said. “But Lundqvist and the ‘D’ were outstanding again.”
Washington was shut out only three times in 82 regular-season games — and it hadn’t happened since Jan. 9. The Rangers got in the way of 29 shot attempts, 16 more blocks than the Capitals had.
“Everyone’s doing a great job sacrificing and trying to get in the way of pucks and not letting them get to Hank as much as we can,” defenceman Wade Redden said. “It’s contagious — you see other guys doing that, and you really try to do those little things that end up being big at the end of the night.”
Varlamov was quite good in what was only his sixth career NHL start, but it turned out he had to be perfect in place of No. 1 goalie Jose Theodore, who allowed four goals on 21 shots in New York’s 4-3 win in Game 1. A first-round draft pick in 2006, the 20-year-old Varlamov began this season in the minors, but Washington coach Bruce Boudreau opted to give him a chance Saturday, after playing coy since Wednesday about who would be Washington’s goalie.
Varlamov acknowledged that he was nervous before the game, though not as much as when his hands were shaking before his first NHL game in December.
“I haven’t seen him a lot, but he was confident,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We’ve got to make it tough for him when he comes to New York.”
Boudreau wouldn’t discuss why he made the switch — nor would he commit to a goalie for Monday.
Varlamov had his “Welcome to the Playoffs” moment about five minutes in, when Sean Avery plowed through the top of the crease, and the goalie used his stick and pads to send the noted agitator to the ice.
Not much later, Varlamov allowed his first post-season goal. Green, who led NHL defencemen in goals and points, got caught up in an attack, and when Ovechkin’s cross-ice pass went between two teammates, the Rangers had a 2-on-1 rush the other way.
Capitals defenceman Tom Poti was left pretty much all alone, and Markus Naslund deked him before sliding a pass to Callahan. With no one to beat but Varlamov, Callahan lifted a shot over the goalie’s glove to make it 1-0 a little more than 7 1/2 minutes into the game.
Lundqvist, meanwhile, gave plenty of credit to his teammates for getting in the way of the puck time and again, including a half-dozen blocks off the stick of Ovechkin, who has yet to score a goal in the series.
“That’s their thing,” said Capitals defenceman Brian Pothier, who had five of his shot attempts strike a member of the Rangers. “You get it by their first shot-blocker, and they somehow have three more guys standing in front looking to knock pucks down.”
After Ovechkin did get off one open look, he watched as the puck clipped the crossbar and sailed over the net with about six minutes remaining. He put a glove to his face and threw his head back.
“You can say he’s a great goalie, but we’re good players, too,” Ovechkin said, “and we have to score goals.”
That certainly is true.
Washington has lost all four previous playoff series in which it dropped the first two games; the Rangers are 10-1 after taking a 2-0 lead in a seven-game set.
“You tell the guys, ‘Keep the faith.’ One break in either game and we could be up 2-0,” a hoarse Boudreau said. “It’s two pretty even teams playing their hearts out — and right now they’re up 2-0.”
Notes: Varlamov made 23 saves. … Capitals D Brian Pothier played Saturday after sitting out Game 1. D Jeff Schultz is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … Just as in Game 1, Washington built a significant advantage in first-period shots. The discrepancy was 14-4 Wednesday, 13-6 Saturday. … Rangers LW Aaron Voros was scratched as Drury rejoined the lineup.